More graft, fewer gap years and McDegrees

31st August 2007 at 01:00
A recent Sun article bemoaning the state of the nation argued: "Unemployment is not a fact of life. There are plenty of jobs, but too many people are too lazy to take them. Hard-working migrants flock here for jobs our kids won't touch."

So have the British and especially British youth simply become lazy? A few months ago, I wrote an article condemning the promotion of hairdressing classes for 14-year-olds a situation I believe has developed because of the loss of belief in education. Paradoxically, however, I would also argue that the decline in young people taking up available jobs has also developed today because society has lost its capacity to see value in work.

The idea of a "grafter" a term that once suggested a certain pride in a hard day's work has largely gone out of fashion. Even in well-paid professional jobs, there is a tendency to see the "gap year" as a preferable option to, well, getting on with your job.

Leisure and family life have always had a certain appeal compared to the day to-day grind of work. However, while we have often moaned about our jobs, we have generally also recognised their worth both for us as individuals and also in the contribution we are making to society.

Today, however, the more therapeutic preoccupation with our inner creativity of finding ourselves appears to have undermined the idea of work to some extent, and has even changed the way we understand work. For example, being a "creative" and part of the "creative industries" has a wide appeal today for jobs that are presented or understood as much in terms of "play" as they are of "graft".

The connection between today's more atomised individual and society is in decline and "how we feel" about things is replacing the value that work has always had at a social level and, through this, in giving us a sense of self respect. If work's not fun why bother?

A balance is needed today in advising young people about their future prospects. Schools should do all they can to educate pupils to the highest academic level possible but, when they are leaving school, let us not corral them into worthless McDegree courses for the sake of it.

Being a grafter is, after all, far more creative (and productive) than being a drifter.

Stuart Waiton is director of

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