Tuesday, 8 July 2014
So, I spent my weekend at my day job, teaching electricians to do what you should all hope electricians already know how to do. Once more I am struck by how un-British we are becoming. While the majority of my students are ready and willing to get on with the task, an increasing number seem to expect an easy ride and an assured outcome, regardless of their aptitude. They pay the price, they gets their ‘sustiffcits’. Whatever happened to the age old principle of matching square pegs with square holes and letting them settle into it? Maybe we need another war on home soil to resurrect some sense of unity, some sense of purpose?
Of course, it doesn’t help when we see politicians apparently making large via the trappings of office while selling our sovereignty down the river. Forget the blitz spirit, “All for me and you’re on your own,” might be the motto of today’s so-called leaders. In encouraging wanton individualism I really think there’s a danger we largely forget what it means to belong. David Cameron seems to want to dilute what we’ve got still further as he suggests ethnic quotas for Westminster. And the voice of the establishment, the BBC, long ago forsook appointing the right person for the job in favour of ticking boxes to meet some diversity target.
As for me, while I sometimes enjoy what I do (although work has only ever really been work for me; a way to pay the bills while I wait to retire and wither away) I have a vague unease that in making that living I may be contributing to the problem. Whatever happened to our technical industries? Apprenticeships that once took five years were reduced to four and then three and now you can take a fourteen-week course and be spat out of the sausage machine as a brand new electrician – live and dangerous. Years ago, the system took in school-leavers and gradually made tradesmen out of them, paid for by a combination of the state funded further education colleges and investment by employers in on-the-job training.
Similarly, in public office people used to pay their dues by getting involved and joining their party of choice, volunteering later to stand for election as councillors and working their way up until the prospect of a local parliamentary seat came their way, whereas now they are selectively bred by former cabinet ministers, expensively educated, schooled in the dark arts and parachuted into safe seats – instant arsehole; just add voters.
Across the spectrum the old demands for rigour would appear to be lost. We no longer train people for a lifetime of good service but merely to shore up the short-term labour demands. Gone are the days of secure jobs and the concomitant loyalty between employers and employees, to be replaced with a production line churning out the ‘that'll do’ as cheaply as possible. In the days of the gold rush the real money was made by the companies who sold blankets and shovels. Today those equivalents are the training organisations, registration bodies, insurance companies, health and safety inspectors and others wanting their slice… with all the costs borne by the trainees themselves.
Thomas Edison said “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Today he might well say that opportunities are missed because they are dressed in branded polo shirts and welcoming grins, wielding PowerPoint presentations... and don’t look like real work at all.