Emphasis on youth skills rather than qualifications the way out of recession?

In the Republic the live register of unemployed hit the highest levels since the late 1990s. One aspect of it is the limited capacity for retraining, or training on the job. Eamon McDwyer, a local Cavan businessman told Slugger on the #RTERoadtrip that rigid enforcement of limits on jobseekers allowance an opportunity was being missed.


In England, Professor Alison Wolf has been warning for some years of “a complete disintegration of the youth labour market”, as “successive governments obsessed with encouraging students to rack up paper qualifications and hours in the classroom.”

As the FT reports she:

…called for “proper funding of internships for 16- to 18-year-olds”. She said even if they did not lead to formal training “work experience still pays. You can still make a career by being in employment.”

Wolf’s argument is fundamentally that skills have a much higher currency in early career than paper qualifications, and that merely being in employment is huge a motivating factor at that crucial school leaving age. In this she would include the habitual act of getting up and going to a place of employment and putting in a hard days work as a key learned skill.

Fine Gael have promised 20,000 new jobs a year. It’s the right thought, but it’s not yet clear what the means of creating them will be.

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  • aquifer

    Policy wonks talk about ‘Social Exclusion’ but employment is the primary social world of adults, so no job no role?

    I worry about the young now. There are far fewer little teen jobs in local or family businesses, the subcontracting of work formerly done by employed tradesmen destroys on the job training. Better health and safety and insurance keeps those with only half a clue out of the workplace. Too much information gives them confidence and ambition without having a clue about the value of application. Multinationals leave them flipping burgers with reduced prospects amd short hours. Migrants want to take money homefor their families and work hard for it, without demanding much by way of training or wordy explanations. At the same time spoon-fed and exam-led schoolkids both lack initiative and too often the basic english and maths that were drilled into us before primary 7.

    We could blame Thatcher for destroying manufacturing, or the Unions when they refused to recognise unions of the unemployed, letting monetarist downturns amd the casualistion of labour destroy their membership.

    Investni’s dirty little secret is that too often local people do not want to do the dirty work, or lack skills.

    A start would be to stop enforcing idleness. Give those on the dole a break and allow them to keep any extra they can earn for a while, so long as they declare the income in the format needed to pay self employed tax.

    Come to think of it, the capacity of computers is more or less infinite now. Why not just let young people get the money in and let computers work out the tax and take it as they go, rather than waiting for a year or two for people to spend money they do not have and then have to borrow to pay the taxman. Young people have to get used to working for a living, there will be a lot of fat pensioners to feed.

  • Driftwood


    As good an essay as I’ve read recently, and it haunts us all.

    The middle has been hollowed out, many ‘professions’ have seen the writing on the wall. Administration is tapping numbers on Excel. The future is unwritten.

  • Ronan McDonald

    Driftwood, I read the Krugman article a few weeks ago and I thought it was really well thought out, if a little too pessimistic (he ignores the important fact that in a globalised market, even skilled foreign workers still depend primarily on American consumers).

    One thought that I don’t see articulated very clearly anywhere:
    The tremendous increase in the numbers going to university was never going to change unemployment levels. Its beneficiaries were hard-working people from working-class backgrounds, the sort of people who would have got jobs had they not gone to university. The focus on improving the qualifications of these people, while it improves their standard of living, does nothing to improve the position of the least educated section of society which has always been the source of long-term unemployment.

  • Driftwood

    Ronan, yes I thought the same, but American consumerism is not an infinite resource, far from it. But
    Krugman’s article is a generalisation, and it’s hitting here in Britain and Ireland.
    Public sector administration (the mainstay of NI and other UK regional economies)has hit the buffer. What will take it’s place? No teaching jobs thanks to demographics, and later retirement. Construction? It’s fallen off a cliff.
    Long term the situation looks even worse. This is not a temporary economic setback. The tide is going out to BRICland, and the UK and Ireland owe heaps of money.
    University educated people with loads of debt and, at best, a promise of jam (a long way) tomorrow…

  • FuturePhysicist

    I agree Driftwood, there is a problem I would say in the private sector of not just NI, but in the UK in general. A lack of serious diversity. You earn more being David Willet’s butler than being a medical physicist. When governments outside of the Anglosphere promote STEM, particularly physics, they use it for industry, but it seems that the USA, UK, Australia it’s used on gombeen pursuits like finance and IT.

  • The Raven

    “Investni’s dirty little secret is that too often local people do not want to do the dirty work, or lack skills.”….which would actually make it DEL’s dirty little secret.

    That said: “Give those on the dole a break and allow them to keep any extra they can earn for a while” is a great idea, and I have no idea why some form of this beyond the current and tightly-regulated, (when it comes to making money), Steps to Employment programme hasn’t been enacted. Oh hold on – I know why. Daily Mail headlines: “MAN ON £92 PER WEEK BENEFITS ALSO EARNS £80 PER WEEK WASHING WINDOWS (for three weeks)” Middle England hates to see anyone do “well”.

    A couple of points, which are both on- and off-topic

    One of my business clients works in restoration, and is probably the last practitioner of what she does, on this island. Someone should take the skill up on an apprenticeship and keep it alive. But her skill requires hard work; manual labour; an eye for detail; a desire to preserve and love what you’re working on. Can she get one person interested? No, because of the above. Burnt out four of them already.

    So an enormously satisfying business with a £150k annual turnover goes wanting, and a skill is lost forever. (She’s tried teaching me, but I’m completely uncoordinated. We are, however, going to try and develop a site which details the process for future generations – should they care.)

    Our local college has just disbanded the section which looks after painting and decorating – the most abused trades of them all. Why? Lack of interest combined by cost-cutting. And yet I’m sure everyone who has had to get someone in for the front room, knows that a good P&D is hard to find, and when you do, they’re booked out for weeks.

    We don’t have crafts-people any more. We don’t have a curriculum which teaches skills as a matter of course, rather than choice. The pool of people who take up trades and follow them with pride and joy in their work diminishes each year. We build things that depreciate to the cost of dust and steel within 25 years. We have an MDF, drylined world.

    On the flipside, we have an IT curriculum which teaches kids about computers – and then doesn’t show them how to use them practically in business or even life. Trades go largely unvalued. Careers guidance is rubbish. Entrepreneurship from age 4 to 14 is relegated to an hour a week when Young Enterprise comes to school.

    “Administration is tapping numbers on Excel. The future is unwritten.” Except in plastic. And on MTV.

  • Mack

    Krugman joins the luddites. That’s depressing. It’s not only not well thought out, it’s dead wrong.

    First up software replacing armies of paralegals. So there is an increase in demand for a small number of highly skilled paralegals (those capable of using and interpreting the software & results) and less demand of run-of-the-mill paralegals.

    Who paid for the paralegals in the first place? The corporations who are purchasing legal services can now buy them at a discount, the legal services company is now more profitable and the software company is also (presumably profitable). Look at it another way – 3 sets of companies are now better off, and have, should they wish more cash to invest in productive activites which could also increase societies wealth and produce jobs. If net jobs are being lost, it is probably in part because these companies aren’t investing in America. Why not?

    The Krugman solution – to increase the bargaining power of labour can have one of two outcomes. It can prevent those jobs being lost by forcably preventing the companies from using the software (which strikes me as the wrong outcome – we want more advanced and efficient use of resources, ultimately so we can deliver more for everyone) or to force up the wages of low-skilled jobs he assumes most of the middle will be forced down into (again not the best option – taking two specific examples, how happy would a one-time paralegal be working as a janitor, even if janitors got a nice payrise this year?).

    Education is surely critical, the mistake Paul Krugman seems to be making is he’s ony focusing on undergraduates. The paralegals may well need retrained. And American companies need to be encouraged to create jobs in America (somone on a thread on Reddit the other day asked how come globalisation & free trade work for Germany but not America). America can choose to spend $3trn fighting foreign wars or they can choose to invest in domestic industrial policy that will create skilled jobs at home (through grants for employing and retraining workers locally, adult / professional education courses at third level etc).

    It strikes me that education is likely a better option – retraining programs for people who’ve lost their jobs