Last week I was invited to attend a breakfast and ‘opinion-former panel event’ at the BIS Conference Centre. It was titled as above – apparently a coincidental duplication of the book of the same name (which I’m now struggling to ‘get in to’) by Ross Perlin – who sadly wasn’t able to attend.
If you’re interested, you can hear the whole event podcast here or read Psychology Magazine’s well written summary of what was discussed here
It was brilliant that Editorial Intelligence brought together many other parties with an interest in answering the question of how we should skill up young people to get jobs.
But I came away feeling disheartened. The panel were certainly accomplished and the talk was well attended but any opportunity to unite opinion and take real action was missed. When given the opportunity, skilling up young people to get jobs will best be achieved by Education and Inspiration on 3 levels. Sadly, the weaknesses of this event lay partly in the title and partly in the make-up of the panel.
- EDUCATING YOUNG PEOPLE:. Simon Waugh, Executive Chairman of the National Apprenticeship Service is clearly a successful, hard working kind of guy who has probably sacrificed the pecuniary gains of executive level roles in the private sector to try and make a difference and help others in public. So no disrespect to him, but calling an event ‘Intern Nation’ and then including someone on the panel who runs an apprenticeship service only perpetuates the semantic confusion as to what an internship is – and more importantly isn’t. In case you haven’t read my rants before, here is my take on the distinction between work experience, internships and apprenticeships. Without clarification (and education), interns, ‘workies’ and apprentices will never really understand their rights and government will continue to fuel the fire with inconsistent policies:
* Work experience: Short placements (generally 1-2 weeks) which are usually for younger people (16-18) to get a ‘taste’ of the working world and typically unpaid though we encourage companies to pay expenses.
* Internships: 1-3 month placements, largely for undergraduates and increasingly graduates, which should be paid for legal AND moral reasons given that the company derives financial value which should be shared.
* Apprenticeships: Apprenticeships as we see them are long term (1-2 year) paid training programmes which leave you with a vocational qualification usually in a craft or a skill. We believe they should be seen as an equal alternative to higher education. We do not believe that ‘The Apprentice’ on BBC 1 helps the classification quandry. Realistically, we would have called it ‘The Accomplice’ or more appropriately, the ‘The Attention Seeker’.
* Jobs: What all the above should eventually result in.
- COMPANIES NEED TO BE EDUCATED AND INCENTIVISE:. It’s a shame that someone as influential and expressive as Laurie Penny (Journalist, author and activist )seems to see the stick as the only solution to the ill justice of unpaid internships. “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you?” Along with many others, she is overtly focused on naming and shaming companies that might not know any better. It would be a real shame if such companies close their doors to young people all together for fear of falling foul of bureaucracy. As I explained to ‘Jilted Generation’ author, Shiv Malik, afterwards, WEXO would far rather we all focus on the carrot of incentivising companies to offer paid internships (via the STEP schemes, proposals for recouping costs of internships from VAT etc) rather than antagonise companies with the stick and choke the supply pipeline? We might also want to remind them that the average Return on Investment of a Graduate is 500% over 3 years.
- IMPROVING EDUCATION PER SE:. It’s The education system is this country IS partly to blame for not skilling people up to get jobs. This is as much the case as it was for the chair of the event, Brian Groom of the FT, failing to break up the childish confrontation between Citibank Head of Graduate Recruitment, Gemma Lines (I hope she concedes that the City owes the country a debt of gratitude and should sponsor other internships as well as inflating their own remuneration even at this level) and Laurie Penney (in fairness it was driven by the latter). The UK’s education system has got worse and this is successively shown to be the case by numeracy and literacy statistics. Moreover, higher education (especially now that it’s paid for) should give its pupils far better careers education and include vocational experience as part of some degrees.
Strangely, the 2 panel members who were least controversial, focused least on the question in hand. This said, Martin Bright , former journalist and founder of New Deal of the Mind (who we work with on BITC’s Work Inspiration campaign) and Faye Wenman, from theTaylor Bennett Foundation, were both entertaining and informative about the good work that they do in trying to create a more meritocratic and productive society. We applaud their work (and the social enterprise, Talent to Work, that this event was ultimately launching) but look to companies and organisations with the reach and resources that we do not currently have to unite the rest of us in effecting real change.