After three years studying for my degree, I graduated on a Friday and started work as an admin assistant on the Monday. My duties included photocopying, tea-making, ordering stationery, organising the staff rotas. It was a thrill, because the post was a staff job on Fleet Street, and because I had spent most of my university holidays hand-stacking small polystyrene moulds by the thousand. I, like others capable of droning on in a similar vein, don’t have much time for people who think a job is beneath them.
That said, today’s front-page story, that 2.5 million young people are “under-employed”, is not about suggesting they see themselves as above certain roles – most are only too glad for paid employment, given the jobs market – but about how best to use the skills we do have in our economy.
The report addresses concerns that some people are being left behind, perhaps forever. Youth unemployment has risen to 20 per cent in England and Wales, although it is falling in Scotland, to 15 per cent.
The problem is especially acute in industrial cities in northern England such as Sheffield, Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester. Some want any work, others would simply like more hours. A further half a million, the Local Government Association says, are not working to their potential.
It would be unfair to hang all this on the Coalition. New Labour obsessed about sending 50 per cent of school-leavers to university, a bold effort to increase social mobility and boost Britain’s skills base which fell short, damaging vocational training and paying too little heed to critical sectors such as tech, engineering and the sciences. (Writes a humanities grad.)
The cheerier side to this story is that the talent is out there: the areas with the largest reservoirs of hidden skills, the LGA says, are South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Tyne & Wear. Take note, recruiters.