Bonnie Greer: We have to get young people as creators of the solutions #cgeni

NICVA’s Centre for Economic Empowerment ran the first of three half day conferences on Friday under the banner of Creating the Good Economy For Life with a focus on Generation Y (people born after 1979).

triptych of Gen Y NICVA CEE conferenceGeneration X and the Baby Boomers will get their turn later in the year.

NICVA CEE wanted the conference to cover:

Are the economic difficulties of youth simply a consequence of the recent downturn, which will improve as the economy picks up? Or are the problems more deep seated, requiring more radical reform?  … what should be done to ensure a good economy for young and old alike.

Topics of being jobless, trying to find employment and questions about the value of university education are not new to Slugger. Journalist and author Ed Howker used his talk to identify some of the issues facing “the jilted generation”. It’s also the title of his book, co-written with Shiv Malik: also available on Kindle (though do make sure you download the updated 2013 edition).

The Jilted Generation front coverAre young people really KIPPERS? (Kids In Parents’ Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings) Are they feckless idiots who lack grit, or is the current generation living at home because house process are rising, unpaid internships are “exploitation by another name”:

When did it become acceptable for private companies and businesses not to pay workers simply because they were young and inexperienced?

  • 35.5% of 18-25 year olds (in NI) are living with their parents (UK average 26%), which naturally has an effect on “couple formation” (“just try taking your lover back to your parents’ house to understand why”);
  • 44% of 17-24 year olds are in fuel poverty;
  • Youth unemployment in NI is highest in UK at 24%;
  • A near doubling of part time work for people in their twenties from 16% to 30%;
  • Over £7bn of PFI (Public Finance Initiative) schemes of which “£4.8bn will be paid back by younger generations after 2023”.

Ed finished his speech by asking: “what is the mark of prosperity?”

I’d say that “prosperity” is defined by the opportunities that we create for the next generation, about our attitude towards them, about what we try to leave behind and what we’re trying to create in the long term. And how we do that is the pre-eminent challenge for all of politics and all of our civic life. Unless we can answer that challenge we will inevitably create a jilted generation.

The Ulster Bank’s Chief Economist Richard Ramsey challenged back on Ed’s observations with figures to suggest that rather than being jilted the youth just needed to be jolted. [Richard’s full slides are available to download.]

  • Richard listed lots of countries in which youth unemployment was worse than Northern Ireland.
  • He pointed to huge inward investment in the Laganside area of Belfast between 2004 and 2014.
  • He did note that the total number of driving tests being sat has fallen further in in Northern Ireland (down 36%) than GB (down 22%) … while the rate of death/serious for 16-24 year olds in road traffic accidents has fallen by 42% in NI.
  • Outward migration was much greater in the early 1970s than over the last ten years where there has been a positive inward flow of population. NI also loses a lot more people to GB then to other international destinations. The use and abuse of internships, and the perhaps misplaced focus on university education were particular bones of contention.
  • Lastly he proposed his own “pledge card” of policies and measures to improve the economic lot of 18-34 year olds. Amongst some contested ideas was a proposal that BBC NI should have a weekly business/economics equivalent of The View.

youth unemployment @ramseconomics Ulster Bank Laganside 2004 2014 fall in driving tests ramseconomics pledge card migration
As NICVA’s Lisa McElheron commented:

There was robust debate between the speakers, the three panellists (Adrienne Peltz, Chris Quinn and Alastair Ross) and the delegates with Ed challenging Richards rosy picture, and the Private Secretary to the DETI minister defending governments role. The

Finally it was the turn of author, playwright and commentator Bonnie Greer.

My generation [Baby Boomers] simply outgrew the welfare system. We were supposed to be all dead at 75. That’s how it was built. I can remember back in the 60s when our elders and policy makers were talking about us as a “time bomb” but they didn’t do anything about it, so here we are and it looks like we’ll be here for a while!

Bonnie’s instinct is to means test her generation.

I know that a lot of people think that the welfare system is a bank where you put money in and therefore you’re supposed to be able to take it out. It ain’t. I don’t think it’s fair for people in my generation to own homes in Benedorm, Nice, … and collect pensions. I just don’t. We’re in a different age and we can’t do that anymore.

She acknowledged that her (older) generation were “the ones to vote”. Russell Brand was wrong to tell people not to vote.

You have to vote. This is the system we’re in. Just get into it, change it later.

Bonnie also recognised that the Baby Boomers generation were perhaps the last to be “local” (“an American baby boomer is different to a British baby boomer”) while later generations are starting to converge because of technology. The convergence started with Gutenberg is now greatly heightened by the internet and new media.

Bonnie Greer’s thesis is that “the young have to lead”.

We have to put young people in positions were they are not just spectators, they’re not just fodder for people to fret over, they have to make policy, they have to shape the world that we’re living in because they’re doing that anyway.

Bonnie and Newton Emerson debated this point on Thursday night’s The View.

For Generation X and Generation Y, business is social. It’s not about going to a factory. It’s about collaboration, it’s about unlocking the engines of collective knowledge, differentiate expertise and rapid learning. Social is no longer just about collaboration: it’s about enabling, it’s about breaking down organisations, it’s about breaking down hierarchy, it’s about breaking down silos, it’s about breaking down barriers …

The convergence of social, mobile, analytics and the cloud is rapid.

Bonnie believes that it is young people who best exploit this new normal and hence they need to be listened to and made room for within institutions.

Too many of my generation are in the way – and I’m saying this with great respect because again many of us weren’t built to survive the system, but we’re going to survive it by 20 or 30 years and there’s a lot of fight left in a lot of us, but – we need to step back because the young have to be the ones to create this world.

She concluded with some ideas (from other people) that confront this reality, including the continued impact of robotics (which are aware of their surroundings and can work alongside human beings but aren’t unionized and don’t need a pension).

The meaning of a degree will begin to change. Focus will be on what you learn not what degree you have. And online activity will be become a data-mine for recruiters …

[Ed – I’d take that further and say that it is the demonstration of how you can learn and could thus apply learning skills to other problem spaces in the future that will differentiate potential employees.]

Agility is the skill we have to go for. Are we preparing our young people to be agile?

She encouraged young people not to leave Northern Ireland which she described as a “goldmine”.

We have to put young people not as spectators or as problems but as problem solvers. We have to get young people as creators of the solutions. The board room, the classroom: it has to be blown open. That way we will be equipped for the new world. And I can’t say it enough as someone who is looking at this, let’s find out how they think, let’s listen to them, and let’s build structures so that they can show us the genius they have.

Richard Ramsey described the conference as the first proper economic debate he had witnessed in Northern Ireland. There is surely room – and need – for more self-reflection and less absolute reliance on bankers and politicians to set policy in isolation?

NICVA’s Storify collates together some of the key moments from Friday’s event.

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  • Charles_Gould

    “Amongst some contested ideas was a proposal that BBC NI should have a weekly business/economics equivalent of The View.”

    I have put this point to a very, very high person in BBC NI, and his opinion is that BBC NI has been moving in this direction with more coverage of business. However, I got no indication of a business/economics programme. In fact TheView never, never, does economics. Compare Prime Time in the south, and Newsnight in London.

    Compare the number of political commentators/reporters/shows/blogs/tweets that BBC NI have with the number of business and economics ones.

    BBC NI do not have economics in their DNA. They don’t like business, they don’t cover it. Everything is the same old politics.

    I think BBC is much much worse for business coverage than UTV. Perhaps UTV actually having to *earn* their money understand the interest in covering business.

    UTV have a very good spot each evening on UTV Live Tonight, and they have some very good reporters, Jamie DeLargey and Naomi McMullan, who both bring a lot of excitement to the area of business.

    UTV miles ahead of BBC on business and economics.

    BBC doing badly in this area.

  • Having a dedicated business/economics editor in BBC NI has been a relatively new improvement – first Jim Fitzpatrick, now John Campbell. Good Morning Ulster’s business news has improved greatly over the last couple of years. But I do agree with Richard Ramsey’s sentiment (on this point if not a lot else) that most of us are economically ignorant in NI and that needs to change across all generations and out local broadcasters and newspapers have a role to play along with schools, colleges and maybe even the arts!

  • Charles_Gould

    Alan, didn’t they have James Kerr, or was his post lower than Campbell’s?

  • Charles_Gould

    What I have noticed is that UTV have been starting to introduce more private sector economists like E Birnie, and R Ramsey, into their TV economics spots. That is a step in the right direction.

    Alan… How is that economics reading going btw?

  • notimetoshine

    I would imagine that we will see more focus in the media (and through events like this) focusing on the tough economic realities we face.

    With the public sector teat drying up we need a renewed focus on business and economics. I agree with Charles_Gould that UTV seem to be years ahead of the BBC, but political analysis in NI media has always been ‘conflict’ focused, with economics being relegated to second chair, needs real change me thinks.

  • Michael Gillespie

    Here again we are being dished out shallow twee thinking by the establishment that the problems of N Ireland can be sorted out by teenagers in some kind of unspecified economics. As someone with a formal background in economics I am not knocking the discipline but am aware of its limitations. The eminent historian ATQ Stewart identified the historic problem in Ulster as “stubbornly constitutional” which resulted in a violent struggle over power and who should yield it.
    The central thesis of my book —The Theoretical Solution of the British/Irish Problem (Amazon) — is like ATQ Stewart’s claim, that the people in N Ireland, young and old are polarized over the constitution. I have also suggested in another comment on Slugger that where the constitution of a country isn’t agreed the economy goes to the wall.
    In another comment on Slugger that in the book indicated there is statistically valid research that demonstrates that 12 year old pupils in Derry are polarized and are at loggerheads over the Constitution. So the thinking of the establishment that the problems of N Ireland can be resolved by the youth of the country is erroneous. Both the youth and the adults in this state are polarized and at loggerheads over the Constitution and being that way they can be exploited by ruthless establishment politicians. The flag protest demonstrates that.
    If we had morally responsible politicians who aren’t in it for the money they would change the existing old divisive British constitution that the people murder over and replace it with the new unifying federal British constitution that can be agreed by all as is suggested in The National Government of Ireland Act in the book indicated above as a written constitution for Ireland. When that is done the economy and growth can be concentrated on to the benefit of young and old in Ireland/N Ireland.

  • fatrex.savage

    Clearly like our esteemed commentator Gillespie I am not an intellectual giant in this field. Yet by the same token I don’t have to be in a barnyard to know when I am dick deep in shit. Last time I checked we don’t have a ” constitution” in terms accepted by most political scientists. We have a set of Parliamentary Acts dating back to Henry VIII. From the Elizabethan Parliaments through the Stuarts etc we have assembled a set of statutes etc which have been complimented by Law Lords ( Supreme Court ) rulings.
    Both the youths, our European colleagues etc are confused why there isn’t a clearly defined constitutional ” Bill of Rights” similar to the one in America.

  • BluesJazz

    The constitutions of the UK or Ireland don’t amount to a hill of beans.
    ‘Generation x’ the baby boomers- reaped the harvest.
    Immigration is necessary because of demographics. (We have less young people and more elderly.
    Those young people are no longer in competition with just their British or Irish peers. They’re in competition with their EU peers and probably -soon- the planet.
    Essentially that’s a race to the bottom for capitalism.
    That used to be a problem for lower earners. But if we can get doctors, nurses, Lawyers, architects etc from Indonesia-Brazil-India then the applecart is overturned.
    The new world order means lower wages (and all that entails) for the majority
    Entropy; the 2nd law. So it goes….
    A population of 6 billion plus growing means something (western European lifestyle) has to give.

  • Charles – one and a half books down so far … must pick them up again.

  • Michael Gillespie

    We don’t have a written consititution as most countries have,the constitution is unwritten. That’s what wrong with it. Ireland needs a written constitution in the National Government of Ireland Act in the new federal British Constitution. The Act can have a statement on rights

  • FuturePhysicist

    Generation Y is very much Generation X’s problem, in a decade X will become the burden and will be at the mercy of Y. Can even the richest of X expect mercy from a doctor of Y?