Margareta Pagano: The UK's lost boys need better careers advice

Business needs to get behind proposals for specialist mentors who will be far more effective at setting school children on the right work route

Teachers at a further education college in a big town in the south-east of England were so concerned by the lack of social skills and literacy levels of its student intake last year that they decided to survey them. One of the questions asked was how often they sat down and had meals with their parents or families; 70 per cent of those asked said they never sat down for a regular meal, ever. The majority were boys.

The story was told to me by one of the college governors who was as stunned as the teachers by the survey and has been influential in persuading the college to provide remedial work for their students. They shouldn't have been so shocked – more than a decade ago Ofsted warned that the under-performance of white working-class boys was a matter for great concern, that many were more interested in the three Fs – fighting, football and f…ing – than the three Rs.

This under-performance or lack of aspiration is now affecting even those boys who do make the grade through school to A-level. Even if you factor-in the effect of higher tuition fees, the numbers of white, working-class boys applying to university last year fell massively – by 13 per cent or 22,000 boys – four times greater than the drop in applications from girls.

So it's no surprise that David Willetts, the universities minister, has suggested universities should be asked to recruit more from this social group, and admissions bodies should be asked to treat them like any other minority.

Mr Willetts is absolutely right that more needs to be done to target these boys but his remedy is not enough; more needs to be done much earlier in their educational careers.

What all teenagers need – not just this social group – is much better guidance and quality direction in their schools; from the age of 12 onwards. Most careers services at school are perfunctory, carried out by stoic teachers on a voluntary basis. Sadly most of them don't know enough to offer decent advice either on the A-levels needed for university courses or the many options available for apprenticeships – which can also lead to part-time degree courses.

The irony is that there are masses of jobs available; the UK has a massive skills gap that is only going to get worse over the next decade. We need technical staff and engineers in the automotive, bio-technology, aerospace, green, and oil and gas industries to name just a few. But who knows this? Most teachers certainly don't. There's only one way to get the message across and that's to help mentor and advise our teenagers, make them feel special and to give them what they don't get around the breakfast or dinner table.

Here's my idea: each of the UK's 3,400 state secondary schools should employ a specialist careers person from the private sector who is highly trained in all new industries, and is dedicated solely to spending time with pupils discussing their future careers and bringing local and national businesses into the schools.

Let's say these specialists are paid £50,000 each – add on a bit for costs – it would cost the country around £240m. That's not much in the scheme of things but just think of the benefits. Businessmen such as the Confederation of British Industry's Sir Roger Carr should consider making such a service a priority, and lobby the Government to work with the LibDem MP, Gordon Birtwistle, who has just proposed an excellent Private Members Bill for a national careers service.

It's worth going back on the BBC's Parliament channel to watch Birtwistle when he presented the bill's first reading last October – there were about five MPS in the Commons listening to him. Say no more.

Buffett's green buy turns the Oracle of Omaha into the Sun King

Going against the grain has always been one of Warren Buffett's strictest maxims for making money; he bought Wrigley's chewing gum when it was stuck on the floor and shares in Goldman Sachs and Bank of America when they were close to bottom. (His Berkshire Hathaway company beat the S&P 500 index last year – and BofA shares were up 17 per cent).

So you have to sit up when the octogenarian makes new moves, as he did last week by buying a Californian solar energy project that has the potential to be the biggest in the world.

It's Buffett's third investment in solar in little over a year – tax breaks help – but this latest is a game-changer and shows just how fast the solar industry is developing. He's making the $2.5bn (£1.6bn) investment through MidAmerican Energy Holdings – a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway. It's buying the two 579-megawatt photovoltaic projects in the Antelope Valley which are still under development and form part of MidAmerican Solar which owns other big solar farms in the district.

This is a classic Buffett-style business – one with high capital expenditure needs that eat up the billions of cash that Berkshire spews out every year. He also likes being in the lead in his industries, helping shape policy just as he did with the banks after the crash. In fact, US analysts are asking whether Buffett is building MidAmerican up to float. After this latest deal, it has the potential to be one of the biggest green businesses in the US and possibly the world.

Buffett also knows that the US is taking its sun power seriously – the authorities recently gave pre-approved planning on huge tracts of land across six states, about 285,000 acres of public land, for solar developers to now look at with low risk.

That's the sort of approach we need here in the UK where – believe it or not – the potential for solar energy is also huge and so much cheaper and more efficient than other renewables such as wind. To quote one of Buffett's many aphorisms: "As Mae West said, 'Too much of a good thing can be wonderful'."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Pricing Analyst

£30 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pricing Analyst with experienc...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Sales Team Leader - Wakefield, West Yorkshire

£21000 - £24000 per annum: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged b...

Ashdown Group: Head of Client Services - City of London, Old Street

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders