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The Guardian Newspaper Bang on the Money – the British Chambers of Commerce 100% wrong

Tom Winnifrith
Sunday 23 February 2014

No folks there is no mistake in the headline. And no, I have not been infected with the mad lefty virus following my brief visit to the Socialist benefits paradise that is Wales. You read it here first: The Guardian has on one issue got it bang on the money, the British Chambers of Commerce is just wrong. The issue is youth unemployment.

I start with the pantomime villains, or should that be clowns, that is the small business organisation. Youth unemployment is officially 700,000 with another couple of hundred thousands doing worthless courses at joke new universities so merely postponing the inevitable. The Chambers reckons that the answer is for the Government to spend £100 million bribing small businesses to take on apprentices. Aaaaagh.

  1. There is no Money Tree – we want to cut the deficit don’t we fellows?
  2. A £1000 bribe will simply mean those firms that want to hire will, those who don’t won’t. Taking on a worker new to the workplace is a pain it costs you a lot more in the first few months than £1000 in training and also in accepting that some will not work out and you have to start all over again.
  3. Not everyone can become an apprentice. The reality is that many young folks can only hope to work in unskilled labour. The reality is that they refuse to do so.

And so to the Guardian. It recognises that the real problem is the expectations we have created among young folks. The cold reality is that if you have a 2:1 in cultural studies from a new university or 6 A* GCSE’s those qualifications are not worth the paper they are written on and moreover they do not qualify you to actually be a worker. Getting your hands dirty, being nice to customers and turning up on time are not skills you can learn in academia.

We have created a society that believes it has a “right” to work in a job that suits and a “right” to live on welfare until that job arrives. There is no such right to live off the sweat of others. Work is a way for us to all pay our bills, the reality is that few folks adore their work it is just something you have to do.

Youth unemployment in Britain would be dramatically lower if young Brits were prepared to work in Café Nero or as waitresses at Real Man Pizza Company. They are not and thus all my waitresses are non Brits. All three have degrees (one has two) but they will work hard, will turn up on time, will be nice to customers and will not sit on welfare in Barcelona or Tallinn waiting for the right job. They got off their arses went to London and took work that young Brits refuse to do.

The solution: slash welfare payments and increase the tax threshold to £20,000. Then British youth unemployment would fall sharply and you might just hear an English accent when you order a latte.

The secondary point is that we must stop kidding young people that getting a degree in a liberal arts subject from a “new university” will get them on the ladder to a great career. It will not. God sprinkles out the talents in a random way. Some of us have good looks, some of us have sporting prowess, some of us are intelligent and some are entrepreneurial. This is God’s joke on us. Some of us will not be oil paintings, can’t run fast and are not that bright. For those folks an unskilled job is THE ONLY way forward. It is a cruel aspect of God’s joke but that is the way he operates and of how society operates.  The Chambers and others are simply pretending otherwise. It is a cruel pretence.

The Guardian article puts it well. I never thought I would do this but over to Laura Kay:

Recently while working a nine-hour shift in a busy cafe in Sheffield, I jokingly offered a job to a student waiting in the queue who'd remarked on how busy we were. "Oh no," he scoffed, looking embarrassed for me. "I'm over-qualified''. Obviously, because I am a consummate professional and had my hands slightly full with a lowly sandwich, I couldn't run home and grab my master's certificate to shove in his face, or sob incoherently about my dreams and ask why, oh why, hadn't I done dentistry?

In the current climate, it seems that what you're qualified for has much less correlation with what you actually do, as more British people than ever are filling low-skilled jobs, despite what Ukip might tell you. I am qualified to write essays about a very specific period in American history. There is surprisingly little call for this at the moment, or indeed ever, so instead I find myself increasingly proficient in food preparation and trying not to pour coffee over myself. As employment minister Esther McVey helpfully pointed out, us young people have got to be willing to take jobs at Costa Coffee and not just expect to walk into our dream profession. Well, there is no danger of that, not in the north of England during a recession.

In fact, graduates are likely to get a real shock when entering the world of employment, realising those loans weren't just free wine money and that there are thousands of people applying for just 300 jobs at a new Asda. It turns out that minimum wage jobs are actually gold dust.

Many of us who were brave/stupid enough to take arts and humanities degrees during an economic downturn have experienced rudeness at the hands of a certain type of student who looks down on such lower-skilled jobs. This is a student who has just entered the world of higher education and still sees a dreamy, high-flying future ahead of them. That bright future could exist but comes at a much higher price than before. It involves coming home from your paid job and getting out your laptop or sketchbook to start on the work you love and live for but for which no one is willing to pay you.

I have worked on and off at the same sandwich shop while completing internships, short-term contracts and freelance work, ever since finishing my master's in 2012. Although attitudes among graduates are certainly changing, as increasing numbers find themselves working in unexpected environments, there remains a feeling that when you finish university, you'll be different. I know because I thought this too. The real stigma of low-skilled work most often comes in the form of an "it's fine for them but not for me" mentality.

You can have the perfect A-levels, an arts degree from a Russell Group university and all the ambition in the world, but you also have to be willing to put in the graft – and perhaps not in your first choice of career. Graduates need to realise that in this economic climate we have to work twice as hard to get where we want to be. A "graduate job" may no longer be quite what it used to be but it doesn't mean that there isn't work out there. And students should learn to be nice to the people waiting on them – they could be doing the same in three years' time.



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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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