The let–down generation
July 3, 2012
In my recent BBC Radio 4 Four Thought lecture I spoke about the 6.5 million people who actually want to work in the UK but cannot find a job. I spoke too, about the fact that there are 10 million people who don’t have a single level 2 qualification. Most of these people went through schooling between the 70′s and the 90′s. I call them the let-down generation.
However, what I didn’t have time to say is that a highly disproportionate number of these people live in our most deprived areas. This will come as no surprise to readers of New Start but nevertheless I think the connection between these two factors is considerably under-estimated. I have set up and ran a number of social enterprises in some very deprived areas of the country and the lack of skills locally has in all cases been a severely limiting factor.
As a matter of course when interviewing for van driver jobs I give candidates an A to Z in order to check they can read (I have learnt the hard way – I was assaulted by a guy who couldn’t read) and I would make sure a person using a weigh scales could differentiate between pounds and kilogrammes. And this extends beyond manual workers. When recruiting for supervisor grades I’ve needed to check that candidates had basic numeracy, could create simple spread sheets and could understand essential management data. The absence of such skills is a serious impediment to any business or organisation. It also requires the senior managers to go beyond their normal role as employer and act almost as teacher and parent too.
Ironically, the stress that such challenges often brought (drivers getting lost because they couldn’t read a map, staff paying out the wrong amount because they’d used the wrong weight scale) was also accompanied by an enormous sense of satisfaction. For where the average business manager seems to lack the patience for such difficulties I’ve found helping these people and watching them change and grow in front of me to be amongst the most rewarding experience of my life.
That’s why I am proposing in my upcoming book that social enterprise should lead in the regeneration of our most deprived locations. Because only people with empathy for their staff and the patience to help them and train them can really break the cycle of low skills, no jobs, no hope that so many communities find themselves in. Local social entrepreneurs know what’s needed in their area and they can create the jobs we need. If we can give them the support they need to get started and in turn to support and train their employees, we could rebuild the confidence of the let-down generation. And that confidence will pass down to their children and then finally we might see the skills and income gulf that characterises this country starting to close.