Friday, 4 March 2011
Give the kids a chance.
Despite having beaten Germany in two world wars and one World Cup and possessing a hugely superior understanding of rock 'n roll, we in this country never seem to get over our inferiority complex. "Why can't we be more like the Germans?" is a cry that I seem to have heard for as long as I can remember; and sometimes it's justified. The most recent example is the provision in our two countries of craft apprenticeships. Well, I say recent, in fact this has been running for years but a report by government analyst Professor Alison Wolf has once again exposed our poor level of vocational training and got the pundits comparing UK to Germany. Part of the problem is traditional British snobbery about folk who work with their hands. Not that Germany with it's faux aristocracy and "von" this and "Herr Doktor" that is immune from snobbishness but at least they recognize the worth of a skilled artisan compared to a desk bound keyboard jockey. British middle class reservations about their offspring doing anything but office work chimed nicely with the Thatcherite project of replacing a skilled and organised working class with a non-unionised and passive underclass of service workers. Manufacturing was replaced by gambling and trade skills by the black arts of the business school.
When the spivs in the city behaved in a way that would shame any half-decent on course bookie and buggered up the economy, everyone was falling over themselves to point out the importance of manufacturing. Too late I'm afraid. We now have a society that considers a mortgage to be a "product" and thinks that manual labour is a Mexican bandit. Yet for all of that there are still young men and women who would love to be given the chance to learn a real skill and have the vision to aspire to being something more than a mere manager or celebrity chef. It would be foolish to romanticise the manufacturing industries of the past. Much of the work was dirty and dangerous and for many redundancy must have come as a blessed relief, but in a world where we are constantly told of the importance of choice, politicians should be reminded that a choice between staring cold eyed into a computer screen or flipping burgers is no choice at all.