Monday, January 28, 2008


McDonalds are going to be allowed to offer training courses which could form part of the standard A level. This is being encouraged by the government in order to bridge something called "the skills gap". We can predict objections from the NUT and others. Presumably somebody in Whitehall is looking at stats that suggest that huge numbers of UK teenagers are unemployable. I don't know quite why this should be except we seem to have slipped into a situation where all jobs demand the prestige, but not the actual training component, of some kind of higher education qualification. When, in the 60s, I stayed on to do A levels, one of my friends left at sixteen and walked into a job with the local estate agent. He did some form of day release but most of his time was spent at the counter answering queries from members of the public. I don't see the teenage estate agent today and the tradesman visiting my home no longer arrives with a 17 year old hammer-holder; a whole stratum of the economy that used to be occupied by "kids" is now occupied by people six years older who've done courses, courses which in many cases can't amount to much that they couldn't pick up in a couple of months on the job. The courses, which are aimed at the increasing number of kids who want to join the glamour professions, are growing in number just as the amount of places offering science or languages is declining dramatically.
I'm doing some work at the moment with somebody who did a degree in Music Management at the University of High Wycombe. A friend of ours is doing a Masters in Physiotherapy. I get called all the time to go and speak to people who are apparently doing a Masters in Magazine Journalism. Meanwhile I read that China already has 40,000 English speaking hackers picking up intelligence from Western web sites. In the light of all that the "skills gap" seems more like history working itself out than a problem in need of the smack of firm government.


  1. Anonymous9:43 am

    I can see your scepticism of degrees in Music Management and Burger Flipping, but Physiotherapy is quite a specialised branch of medicine. I think I'd like to be treated by someone who knew what they are doing.

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  3. Speaking as one who wields a Diploma in Communication Studes (Mickey Mouse Polytechnic), I'd still ask 'WTF is a Masters in Magazine Journalism?'. Surely that's actually putting a magazine out and caring about it, rather than sitting in a classroom analyzing it?

    Isn't one of the problems that too many people want to be in the glamour professions and nobody wants to mend pipes? After all, we need more rappers.

  4. Yes, the Masters in Magazine Journalism might be a pointless course in terms of what it teaches you but could someone go and get a job at a newspaper/publishing co. without some sort of qualification these days? The Government encourages everyone to go into higher education whether it fits them or not and this creates a situation where everyone and his dog has a degree and employers won't consider you unless you have at least that - either the opportunities to be an apprentice aren't there anymore or people aren't willing to do it. (Let's ignore the example of my younger brothers, one of whom dropped out of Uni to write for a magazine and the other went to work for Philips when he left school and is now a director of the co. he works for)

  5. I cannot speak for the Newspaper groups but in the course of a thirty year career in magazine publishing I have hired scores of people and never once have I shown more than a passing interest in their academic or vocational qualifications. I don't think I'm unusual in this.

  6. The disregard of academic qualifications is the guilty secret at the heart of all this "education education, education" marlarkey! We pressure our children to get these things but then don't really bother with them or even in some case understand what they are (NVQ level 4 anybody)?

    I've a big envelope full of certificates, the only person who has ever asked to look at them was my Nana!
    However it took a world war before my family were allowed into Uni so I'm not going to totally trash degrees just yet.

  7. I have a friend in the U.S. who worked for Disney and went to their 'University', (yep Clair the real Mickey Mouse Uni, not Poly, mind you) and got some kind of graduation or other in theme park management with minor subjects of river boat piloting & advanced "Character" characterisation or somesuch.
    The upshot was that he was able to move onwards and upwards through Disney corp and is now 14th exec VP with another theme park outfit, Busch Gardens or similar.
    But my point/question is that the U.S. have a tradition, and perhaps a necessity, for corporately syllabused education but in the U.K., do we really? (apologies for my lack of education if 'syllabused' is not real word)

    Or has it come to this because businesses want to educate their staff 'their way' because they've given up on what they get from HE, FE, etc?

  8. Here's the problem as I see it: Our education system was fine in about 1970. Unfortunately there's no point paying an entire Ministry to do nothing so successive administrations have tinkered with the system for no reason other than to justify their continued employment.

    If you keep fixing something that isn't broken it ends up ruined, which our education system now is. The symptom of this ruination is an entire generation of illiterate graduates who aren't qualified to flip a burger.

    Hence this story.

  9. Anonymous3:57 am

    University graduates are ten-a-penny these days. I now find myself comtemplating an inevitable Masters as I can get little further in my (frankly rather low-paid) career without one. When I left school twenty years ago, many of my classmates joined YTS schemes. These were rather maligned even at the time, but these 16 year olds trained as legal secretaries, accountants, retail managers and tradesmen. And to date they all still make more money than I do.

  10. I didn't go to university and was snobbily told as a 19 year old by the graduates on the same journalism training course as me that I would have "benefitted from a university education".

    I don't doubt this on the social and life-enhancing side, but the debts accrued for the sake of a degree that I didn't need for my career ambitions are aspects of higher education I'm pleased I didn't suffer. These guys were the same as me as we were training for the same job; the difference was that they were a little older, a lot more in debt and had no ambitions to speak of when they were 18.

    I'd tell an 18 year old to get good A level grades and then get a job, frankly.

  11. Anonymous9:39 am

    Re: the benefit of education and degrees being ten-a-penny, I have to take a different view to many above.

    When I was at school in 74-81, the mantra was all about only 5% having a degree, 15% having 'A' levels and about 50% having 5 'O' levels. Now, the Govt is seeking 50% of kids going on to take degrees. So.... the currency (in my/our 40-something employer minds) has devalued and employers will look for degrees where they once settled for 'O' levels. This attitude is reinforced by comments that 'GCSE's are p-easy' and 'degrees are m-mouse'. So, sorry, my advice to all parents is make sure your kids get a degree.

    As we all know it is still all about your attitude once you are on the career ladder. But to get on the corporate ladder you'll need a degree.