Andreas Whittam Smith: The jobless are our own fault, not anyone else's

A high proportion of businesses say that job-seekers lack basic literacy and numeracy

Share

Before we blame the eurozone crisis for sharply rising unemployment, there is a prior question to ask. How much of the deterioration is explained by our own homegrown failures? Quite a lot. A high proportion of businesses, for instance, say that job-seekers lack basic literacy and numeracy. This makes the transition from school to work problematic. And linked to this is our neglect of apprenticeships.

A study published this week by the Institute for Public Policy Research showed that in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, at least 40 per cent of school-leavers enter three-year apprenticeships leading to a recognised qualification. In England, only 6 per cent of 16- to 18-year-olds were in apprenticeships in 2010, and apprenticeships here last, on average, just over one year.

Every country has its own weaknesses, and one of ours is a historic, persistent neglect of education and training. Yet if you examine the economic reforms being undertaken by Italy and Greece, to take a very different example, you see that both countries are addressing completely different sets of problems that simply don't exist here. These are the closed shops maintained by pharmacists, lawyers and civil engineers and many other services, and the restrictive practices in such activities as taxi driving and trucking. As our Continental neighbours would say, our disregard for education and training is "so British", while we view their medieval guild pattern of business in Italy and Greece as "so Mediterranean".

We have another home-grown problem – the sheer inefficiency of the public sector, amply illustrated in recent days by the travails of the UK Border Agency. Part of the reason why the public sector is losing jobs so quickly at present is that it spent the 10 years leading up to the recession expanding its workforce, year in, year out, yet becoming steadily less effective. Productivity declined by 0.3 per cent a year in this period. So while former Labour ministers criticise the latest unemployment figures, they bear a considerable part of the responsibility.

While the totals announced yesterday are worse than expected, the single headline conceals two very different employment markets, the public sector and the private sector. The former is in free-fall, whereas the latter is resilient.

Some 48 per cent of public-sector employers expect to announce redundancies over the next three months. On the other hand, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) reports that nearly half its members expect the size of their workforce to be larger in 12 months' time than it is today. And optimism regarding employment is particularly widespread among small and medium-sized companies. In fact, the private sector has been expanding every year since 1999, except for 2009 when the recession suddenly arrived.

A recent survey by The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development confirms the CBI findings. It says there is nothing "to show that a marked fall in private-sector employment is imminent". At the same time, and this rounds out the remarkably cheerful aspect that the private sector displays in this time of adversity, CBI survey findings indicate that job growth is expected among firms operating in every part of the UK, with the best outlook of all for businesses situated in Yorkshire and Humberside, the old industrial heartland. Who would have thought it? It is almost as if the private sector hasn't heard the dire warnings of a double dip recession.

None of this, however, is going to solve the problem of youth unemployment in a hurry. The only faint ray of sunshine is that graduate job prospects are slowly improving. Nonetheless, each applicant competes with 82 others for every vacancy. As for those young people without qualifications, the prospect is indeed grim. I believe that in the short term, the only palliatives will be provided by charities working with young people. The state, after all, is going the other way. Across England, spending cuts have hit youth services badly.

Here are two examples. The first is "somewhereto" (www.somewhereto.com), which describes itself as a nationwide project to help young people find the space they need to do the things they love within sport, culture and the arts. It is run by Livity, in partnership with Channel 4. By "space", it means structured space with adult mentoring, friendly advice, and things to do. It badgers public and private organisations to help.

A second is the Source Café in Aldershot (www.cuf.org.uk/stories/source-cafe). In its own words, along with a café and space where teenagers can meet friends and spend time off the streets in an accepting, welcoming environment, the project also provides counselling and mentoring, helping young people to address problems including anger and frustration, low self-esteem or anxiety, which prevent them from achieving their goals.

For the young unemployed, such initiatives are not the future, but they are a better way of surviving the grim here and now. So self-help is the only available way forward, and the eurozone crisis has nothing to do with the matter at all.

a.whittamsmith@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Related Articles
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Green Recruitment Company: Operations Manager - Anaerobic Digestion / Biogas

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Operation...

SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Maintenance Person

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care organisation take pride in del...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care organisation take pride in del...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: How much difference does the wording of a referendum question make?

John Rentoul
 

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent