The leader in the Indy yesterday explained why being 18 in 2010 was the worst possible age to be with falling places at university and up to 200,000 disappointed university hopefuls who don't get their first choice and if they do get a place, they will end up with £25k of debt and poor job prospects. The TUC published a league table of youth unemployment which shows that Kent is in the worst 10% for rising youth unemployment (up 79% sine last year) and Medway is the worst place in the country (up 158%).
There is plenty of rhetoric about the aspirational society that we live in and equal levels of angst by the right wing press about immigrants stealing jobs, yet I see very little analysis about how these are connected and even less about the skill mix required for a sustainable society.
As energy prices soar under peak oil, the outsourcing of manufacturing and farming to automation will reverse. People power will become cheaper than fossil power and the country will need more people doing physical jobs. Yet we have seen the country moving rapidly away from training people to do manual, technical and engineering jobs, prefering to not just outsource them to automation, but to outsource them to other countries and to bring in migrant labour.
None of these options are sustainable. Energy prices will rise to a point where automation is too expensive. It is already widely reported that the conditions in other countries' factories can be akin to slavery as our outsourcing rids us of external costs of production. And relying on migrant labour to pick our crops is the clearest indication of all that we don't have the right people in the right jobs to do the work the country needs.
So am I suggesting that we need to stop people going to university and start working on the fields? Am I suggesting that we go back 200 years? No, I'm suggesting that the country has the balance wrong, the 'aspirational' society wrong, and the value of jobs wrong. I am saying that there is too much focus on university places and white collar jobs and not enough acknowledgement that working on a farm, or sweeping the roads, or building houses are important and valuable jobs.
The 'aspirational' society that leads young people to value banking over producing food has got its priorities wrong. Bankers do not feed us, they do not clothe us, do not build our houses, or keep our streets clean, yet we insist that they are paid phenomenal sums of money while labourers are at the bottom of our wage spectrum.
All the time society fails to value those professions that provide our basics we will continue to have a society based on greed and a society that cannot meet its own basic needs. We need to shift the focus to prevent us undermining these basic needs.
How about doing this by paying workers a decent wage based on their value to society, rather than their educational attainment or their contribution to economic growth?