The so-called riots in 2011 told us young people are disaffected and sensing they’ve nothing to gain playing ball and nothing much to lose. I've worked with homeless people for over 20 years and, believe me, you learn to respect people with nothing to lose. They can be scary.
Labour has now committed to something along the lines of the Future Jobs Fund, which covered minimum wage salaries of under-25s who took up vacancies largely in the not-for-profit sector. We took on a young guy as part of the scheme at Clean Slate and having had time to experience paid work and think about what he really wanted to do, he moved on to work on-site. He contacted me recently to see if we had any work. I was impressed he was prepared to put himself out there and ask. If only all jobseekers were confident to network and prepared to ask for a hand. These indicators of employability are rarely measured.
On Clean Slate's 'On The Job' work prep courses, jobseekers role play scenarios in the workplace and one focuses on Rav, a 19-year old who’s arriving late, taking long-lunches and frequent fag breaks, and being generally chippy. We explore how sometimes it's just that no-one's ever said: 'These are our expectations'. The definition of young people is their inexperience in the real world.
Schools fails young people. Non-academic kids at least. In the past, schools didn't have to worry too much about them because the pits and factories would pick them up. Just teach them to ‘know their place’ and they're good to go. That’s not enough anymore. Worse, schools have become political footballs and focus on middle class obsessions like grades and universities places. Schools should be paid on results and become real stakeholders in all their students' success. Let them compete in league tables for job outcomes.
I spoke to black colleagues in London about the over-representation of young black men among jobless figures. They said there remains a lack of understanding about what it means to be black and this creates cynicism against projects attempting to engage them in jobs and training. Aspirations are also often limited to sport and music.
Aspiration is pretty middle class. Who aspires to work like a dog and make enough to get by? Aside from those who want to change the world or do something rewarding in other ways, like in care, most aspirations are about minimum input for maximum output: A fast buck, an easy job that pays £30k or striking it lucky on the X Factor. I’m guessing jobs where you can do that, in a bank or as an MP, seem pretty out of reach for most young (especially black) unemployed people.
A funny discussion took place in the pub the other evening. AGAIN, I was challenged about ‘all these people’ living a life of luxury off the State. Trying a different tack, I pointed out: ‘We’re all middle class these days. You can’t blame people reared on the principle of maximum return for minimum investment for spotting an opportunity to get paid for doing nothing.’ Of course, the real message is there’s something wrong with all our aspirations.
The Government's response, the Youth Contract, which incentivises employers to take on under-25s, is the latest to flounder. Blame flips between employers reluctant to join up and young people themselves but in the first year (to May 2013) just 4,690 were employed. The target is 53,000 a year. It's time to rethink aspirations and expectations. Starting in schools.