Learn to earn, the big debate.

Former M&S boss, Sir Stuart Rose, has been at the centre of a debate between a scheme to help young people into the workplace and a left wing group ‘Right to Work,’ who are complaining that big businesses offer to try and reduce unemployment is ‘slave labour.’ It’s a highly controversial subject as news coverage is more about opinion than fact, packed with lots of emotion (mainly hate).

Rose, who started his retail career shelf-stacking and sweeping floors, said it was “baffling” that anyone would complain about unemployed youngsters being given opportunities.

Even though these young people are pulling in benefit payments during the work experience period, Right to Work, brandished as a left wing Marxist organisation by ministers and the papers, sees everything within free markets as exploitation.

“They hate bankers, bosses, just about anyone who doesn’t support the idea of giving work shy people a big salary for doing bugger all,” to quote one forum comment.

One comment on LBC was that maybe Poundland (one of the businesses involved in Rose’s scheme) “should charged the kids £1 a day to gain work experience, at least they’d appreciate it more”. Others suggested we bring back national service, paid of course.

The reality is, we have a very different youth entering the job market. Having worked in schools on creative projects over the years I am shocked at the attitudes and lack of work ethic many kids have. A good friend who has taught for over 20 years is even more critical of the decline in values, work ethics and educational achievement of modern day youth, “It’s nto a question of finding employment as whether employers can find kids that even employable these days.”

This has a dramatic implication for us in marketing. Firstly, a changing consumer. Secondly, recruiting future talent. The question is, are the graduates we are seeing as good as the ones over the previous years? My own conclusion, and I see lots, is no they aren’t. Certainly the idea that you have to work you way up in the creative industries is unacceptable to many.

Of course it’s ok for colleges (run as businesses) to charge young people for 3 years of training – the point is that some young people believe that after gaining a massive debt of over £20,000 they deserve a job. Yet, some are leaving college with little good or up to date training to be employable. And worse, some think they deserve a big salary and are already God’s gift to creativity.

One grad I interviewed started the interview with, “Before I show you my book I need to know what your work life balance policy is… oh, and I am looking for £25k with a mobile phone, with the possibility of a car within a year.” What planet was he on? God knows, but his book was rubbish and his ego over inflated by a college that told him he was great when he really wasn’t.

I ran a deprogramming scheme at Saatchi’s when I was there because too many young creatives were being run through colleges like a “sausage factory”. This is a term used by a tutor at a well known college, she blames the beaurocratic system that’s sees education as just a number game. “If we were able to train them the way we wanted it would be the way the politicians want us to, she remarked to me.  “Given the importance of the Creative Economy to this country, I really fear that we aren’t training young people with the right thinking or skills.”

It opens up a previous debate I raised, that maybe the industry should offer an alternative to college and train our future talent ourselves. There is something to be said for apprentice schemes. If college can charge money, then why shouldn’t big agency groups? Surely, 3 years spent at a WPP, Publicis, BBDO or Omicom agency is better education than 3 years at one of the underperforming colleges? And they’d make money out of it too.

No one will disagree that there’s a big difference in taking young people on and giving them real experience and real training, against just using them to do the bad jobs like filing, doing databases and running erands.

But groups like Right to Work have no idea about how business work and see everything in black or white, and through a negative anti-capitalist viewpoint. They don’t see how important work experience is in making young people suitable for work. How valuable real experience is. Or how much a company has to invest in young people before they can actually be productive.

Fact is, most of us had to work our way up in the industry, I worked for peanuts for my first 3 years. But that was how we learnt the real art of advertising. How we gained the experience that was necessary to make us employable. Those who weren’t prepared to didn’t make it into the industry. This is true of most of the creative industries.

After all, any employer has a right to work too – the right to get a real day’s work back for what he pays you.

The Right to Work group have also being targeting brands like Tesco, Waterstones, TK Maxx, Poundland, Oxfam, Burger King and McDonalds’ with their “I’m hating it” campaign (hate seems to be something they like to cultivate). Of course, they offer no sound alternative economic solutions and actually threaten the future of youth opportunities through their campaigns.

Beating up brands that can train youth means that sooner or later the big brands will withdraw support of schemes like WorkFare, leaving a generation with no hope at all. And what can Right to Work offer them as an alternative? Nothing.

The fundamental point the Right to Work has missed is that no one has the right to demand work in a free economy, only in a communist one (well they are a Marxist group). To quote a comment on Right to Work’s own site (having a go at them) “If you want a fair wage for a fair day’s work you have to earn it. A salary is not the same as benefit. One you earn, the other you don’t.“

It seems we are entering a period where trying to do good is portrayed as bad. This could mean that work experience, so needed by grads to get jobs, is stopped because it causes too much grief and instead companies start to hire from abroad. To quote the Telegraph “Only in Britain’s warped welfare culture could putting the unemployed to work cause such a furore.”

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