Since 2007, the total proportion of 18- to 24-year-olds claiming jobseekers’ allowance has almost doubled in Scotland – from 4.3 per cent to 8.3 per cent. While everyone has felt the chill wind of the ongoing fiscal crisis, at the bottom of the pecking order, young people seeking their first job have been hit hardest. The usual suspects snuffling about for bad news have hoovered this into their moan machines but, as usual, have been distinctly quiet as to an effective solution.
Yesterday’s man Iain Gray has led this particular charge and, to be fair, did propose a solution: unlimited apprenticeships. While definitely part of a solution, as with so many Labour postures, it is partial and even damaging, as well as rather ignoring Swinney’s existing ambitious plan, with increases confirmed in September. The danger is that, after years of education fixating on access to university, to swing the opposite way and focus on vocational would be even less helpful.
The future of Scotland rests on three key commercial advantages, all with a worldwide reputation and potential market. One is our history and environment. on which tourism is being developed; one is our richness in resources so that our continuing oil will become outstripped by renewables; the third is our knack for quality specialist products, be it whisky or Irn Bru, Weir Pumps or Wolfson Semiconductors, salmon or chutney, market or mutual funds. And we’ll find new opportunities in an ever-changing world: when drought becomes endemic in England, who’ll have loch-fulls of water to sell them?
Pivotal in exploiting all of this will be our young people and how we prepare them. It’s not just about education. It’s about tapping into their ideas and firing their imagination; it’s about seeing youthful enthusiasm as a solution and not a problem. We restrict—or worse yet waste—it at our future’s peril. A current lager ad set a century ago touches on this, when a young Tennant’s magnate glows with his vision of brewing a reward for the people, only to find that someone’s stolen his cartwheels.
Scots need no lesson in drive, energy and enthusiasm. The trouble has been that it was always seen necessary to travel elsewhere to fulfill it. If our businesses were to focus along the lines above and education were to adjust so that, as well as brilliant academic research, we were to turn out scientists and engineers to staff such industries, craftsmen to build and maintain their infrastructure, administrators to both preserve and develop our peerless quality of life, then not only would jobs for non-specialists be more plentiful but better funds to help less fortunate participate, if not contribute, would be available.
Most of all, there would be a sense that there was some link between contribution and reward, that taxes paid were not being drained off to build tube lines in London, intrude in other countries’ affairs or fund a third generation of nuclear armageddon-makers to sit as a useless threat on our own doorstep. That would give a more engaged context.
But young people are idealistic, passionate, impatient. The blatant irrelevance to them of media fixated on Westminster or Afghanistan or the latest eurocrisis and especially of the endless, conclusionless altercations that pass for politics means any sane, effective approach to engage them would not just provide sensible (and equally valued) career paths for academics, engineers, artisans, artists, administrators, etc., but would support this through engaging teachers and parents in more than just extracurricular sports but in wider extracurricular activities that would hold their interest.
Youth cafes, Scouts, etc. are a start but the blight that nitpicking H&S has put on outdoor activities needs to be lifted, the mindless bureaucracy of Disclosure Scotland trimmed and the paranoia about child abuse mollified so that a broad spectrum of adults can interact with kids not their own without thinking the polis are watching every move. This is how kids used to get a real education—by hanging out at the farmyard or shop or smiddy, getting keen and starting on the skills that would make them a good apprentice journeyman. And they start this around age 6, not 16.
Will this require some undoing of well meaning legislation? Yes. Not everything made into law is, in retrospect, sensible. Just ask the Americans about Prohibibition. Even today, any Welshman caught within Chester city limits after sunset can still be legally shot with a longbow.
If we’re to make real inroads into the sad youth NEET stats, let’s give our young people (and stray Welshmen) a real chance by changing the rules; you can’t eat political postures.