Opinion from Lord Digby Jones

Doing Nothing Is Not An Option

Published Monday 1 August, 2011

In my line of work I receive a lot of written and spoken reaction to my ideas and views. I reckon “a lot” is far fewer than so many public figures much further up the food chain than low pond life such as me, but it is always interesting to hear and read views and opinions. Thank heavens we live in a Society where such behaviour is encouraged without fear or favour!

Never before have I been moved to incorporate such reactions in one of my pieces but I do so today because I have been moved and encouraged so much by the response I have received.

In my book “Fixing Britain” (and if you haven’t yet read it, you are just one click away from ending your lack of fulfilment by asking Amazon to wing a copy to you!) I proposed an idea that would deliver a win-win-win for our Country. Last week I had the chance on BBC One Breakfast TV to give the idea an airing. I didn’t miss the opportunity!

After eleven years of fulltime, free, compulsory education in the UK (and around 4 billion of the World’s population of 6.5 billion don’t have that privilege which we just take for granted), half the young people who take a GCSE don’t achieve Grade C or above in English or Maths (and that’s only about the ones who take it!). Yes … some 48% of the 16 year-olds in this Country are basically not fit for the world of work in a fiercely competitive global economy. And we want to take on China in the value-added, innovative stakes do we? If it wasn’t so serious it would be laughable!

Many (too many) 14 year-olds are looking forward to two more years of irrelevant boredom as the pressure comes on for the two years to GCSE’s. They are functionally illiterate and innumerate and so much of the academic stuff thrown at them goes straight over their heads.

Reading, writing and counting goes off the National Curriculum at 11/12 and we then continue to pay teachers to deliver the product of our education system who are not fit for purpose. They are disruptive to themselves, to those classroom colleagues who want to study and are often offensive, and sometimes violent, to the teacher.

At the same time, the greatest inhibitor to growth in our economy is a lack of skilled people. Whether it’s in manufacturing or retail, in a reforming public sector (bound to produce more for less with better kit and a need for better-skilled people) or in creative industries, all employers say the same. Yes we want less regulation, yes we want lower taxes, yes we want a better transport system, but above all else … please give us a pool of skilled people from which to produce the productive, successful entities of tomorrow. Not rocket scientists, not even graduates; just young people with a skill, a ticket, that can give them self-respect, an income and allow the Country to make progress.

So why don’t we say to those young people who want to (after due consultation, assessment and advice from teachers and parents) … you can leave the classroom at 14. You WILL go to a college of education for two days a week and you WILL go to work on an apprenticeship for the other three.

You will be paid for the work you do (not much but more than you would get at School!) and it would not be an easy ride. But you will get into the habit of turning up to work on time (turning up to work at all would be a start!), getting your hands out of your pockets and learning a skill. More than anything you will start to make the connection between improving your abilities and earning money! Not academic studies but vocational training which will increase your sense of self-worth and give you hope not hopelessness that can be (wrongly but understandably) assuaged by using the white powder (and entering the criminal class to pay for that) or joining a gang.

And Society would benefit big time. Those at School can get on without disruption. The young people on the course become of use to themselves and our Society (filling, in par, the need for skills) … and they will, of course, spend their earnings, which will create another job somewhere.

The metropolitan elite screamed blue murder when I aired my views. “Sending kids up chimneys” was an oft-used cry; “business exploiting children” came the tofu-influenced bleats. And then my inbox started buzzing. Here is one email I received:

Dear Sir

I have just watched your interview on the BBC Breakfast show. normally I would’nt bother to respond to much I see on TV but I feel so strongly about what I heard that I must add my twopence worth.

You are absolutley correct & the woman from the school is unfortunatly so wrong as to be part of the problem we have in this country and that gets me boiling.

As a 14 year old kid I would spend my weekends & school holidays working in my fathers engineering & fabrication shop , i learned to weld, fabricate pipes, read drawings, fetch & carry and make tea for everybody.

I also learned so much from all the adults I worked with about life, about responsabillity, about thinking for myself, making decissions and problem solving. 

like all kids at that age I was cocky and rebellious. working with adults at that age showed me what was acceptable and what was’nt, what i could get away with and what was going to get me a clip round the ear.

It also taught me that respect, both ways, was important. when you have adults in in a tough working enviroment like engineering & construction stoping to take the time to teach you , to offer advice, it make you feel like you are somebody, while not yet equal but  off some worth, and i believe if you put youngster’s out there today with the workforce  the majority of adults will gladly mentor these kids and the kids will come to believe in themselves and that there is a future out there for them.

I heard several times during the interview that this is a backward step. Yes it is , but whats wrong with that. Thats what is needed. Over the last 3 decades our Industrial base has shrunk to a shadow of what it was with the result that there are very few companies offering the sort of apprenticeships & vocational training that we need to compete with the developing world. The training industry seems to have grown in direct proportion to this reduction. But what is the value of the training that they offer. We have training companies putting together courses and offering them to collages. thats how they make their money. but do they ever go to the end user and ask them to validate their proposed training. To ask them what is pertanent to their requirements.

I remember the first “tops” training in the 70’s and I remember thinking it was a very good Idea, untill I visited a local collage as a local employer to see what they were doing. I was disappointed to see that the kids were just getting a broad brush general “ bits of everything” course & thought I could do better than this. The lecturer impressed me , but only with his dedication to the kids, some of the stuff he was teaching them was factually incorect. when I spoke to him after the visit and mentioned, in private , that some of the things he was teaching them was not correct he told me that it was’nt really his subject.

What is the point teaching them stuff thats wrong, where is the value in that. I’m sure that other employers like me have a poor opinion of these training schemes, put together by people with little knowledge.

We have twiddled and tweeted for years and got so far from what we had that worked that we now have nothing relevant. Stop now and go back to what worked. 

I believe that the goverment should do more to encourage industry as a whole to collectively take the reins and direct the vocational education of our kids & take those reins out of the hands of schools and companies that just exist to make money out off half baked training schemes.

I am sorry if this comes accross as a rant, but I am a very succesfull construction proffesional working around the world on oil & gas projects and can see first hand how the quality of the young engineers and tradesmen that are coming through has fallen so low. last year I spent 8 months on a camp in saudi & at 58 years old I was one of the youngest there. when we discussed this on the camp, between the american & the european guys there, the general agreement was that we could be working well past our retirement age because there is not enough people following behind us with the knowledge and experience..............except the chinese & koreans. 

you have my support, now take your proposals direct to employers

Regards

… and another …

Hi

I just wanted to say how uplifting it was to hear Lord Digby Jones on BBC breakfast this morning.

I had my first part time job at the age of 12 and two part time jobs at the age of 13. At 15 I worked again part time for a major High Street retailer, went into Manufacturing at the age of 17.

My exposure to the world of work from such an early age taught me the structure and disciplines required for working as well as a range of skills and an attitude towards working I would never have got from school alone where to be quite honest I was ‘disruptive’.

As someone once heavily involved in industrial recruitment I have experienced for myself the lack of skills and also the poor attitudes displayed by some ‘British’ youngsters when employing staff. Many teenagers these days that didn’t go to college or university are quite frankly unemployable especially as they are in competition with far more capable teenagers from other parts of Europe and the World.

It was nice to hear someone offering a solution to the Countries ‘ills’ rather than just make excuses for them.

I’d like to wish him every success in his campaign

But the one that let me know I was onto something was the one I received from a teacher:

Digby

THANK YOU! For your interview this morning on BBC Breakfast. I’m a secondary Head teacher and we’ve changed the way our pupils think about work and study by putting in place young apprenticeship learning opportunities – hair dressing/ beauty, construction and motor vehicle maintenance, all with elements of business management.  Admittedly we originally aimed these courses at those kids for whom sitting in a classroom just wasn’t right, but have learnt our lessons and hung our heads in shame, as kids, AGED 14, have flocked to sign up!

We’re in our third year of delivery – have reduced our exclusions to nil and now turn out kids ready for the workplace at 16, two years ahead of their GCSE/ college certificate laden contemporaries.  100% of whom move on into higher apprenticeships in the local workplace or come back into our A level sixth form with a clearer understanding of what they want and need to do to get on.

We teach the kids in as close to purpose built premises as we can … construction is tough to do, but within three weeks these 14 year old children become adults! The transformation is exceptional and they pick up the A to C level skills in Maths and English better in this environment than the traditional classroom route.

Yes, kids are kids and need some “nurturing” but often a proverbial & metaphorical “kick in the seat of the pants” works wonders too.

So thanks for some sense! Should you get the opportunity please have a pop at our dear Mr Gove, who is looking to remove the funding for young apprenticeships and will force these kids back into a full E-bacc GCSE programme – this will be a disaster.

Still, kindest regards to you, Lorraine & Joanne in your office.

I have obviously removed their names but the sentiment is clear.

Will my idea be 100% fool proof and successful? Certainly not. But will it move us on? For sure. 

We are at five-to-midnight in this country. We either start producing young people out of our education system who are fit for the World of work or we will (not may), in this, Asia’s century, have a very cold and brutish future. If my idea is so dreadful, then I challenge the naysayers to come up with a better idea, because, Michael Gove, doing nothing is not an option!