Rescuing our jobless generation

Education is coming under extreme pressure partly because of the dissatisfaction increasingly registered with it, and with the state of schools, in particular, in many developed countries. In my view this dissatisfaction, which is so notable in the United States, but also exists in Western Europe and in Canada and in other countries, too, arises at least in part from the fact that we are confronting a level of unemployment and specifically a level of unemployment among young people in the developed world, the like of which we have not seen since the Depression years between the two World Wars.

Among young people the figures expected in 1981 range from 14.5 percent in the US, 16.5 percent in the United Kingdom, 17.5 percent in France, 30 percent in Italy, 35 percent in Spain. So that we are looking at a situation in which one in three young people between the ages of 16 to 24 have no job and have very little prospect of getting a job. And even that is not to spell out sufficiently how serious the position is. That is a general figure for young people between the ages of 16 and 24. But if one then looks at young people who are unqualified, who lack educational attainment, who have no degree, who have not completed their 18-year-old public examinations, the figure can be doubled. . . .

I want to suggest to you that figures of 40, 50 and 60 percent unemployment among young people . . . suggest the possibility of a breakdown of social trust and social order, which we have got to take more seriously than simply by building up our police forces in order to cope with the inevitable consequences.

The schools are tested by their ability to prepare youngsters for work, and in societies running out of work, more and more schools are unable to pass or achieve that criterion.

Whatever the reasons, and there are many . . ., all of us must be aware that the major move back to conservative financing and to cuts in public expenditure in the Western world is going to mean less employment in fields like public administration, education, and health, the fastest growing fields of employment in Western Europe and the Us over the last 10 years, and in addition is going to mean pressure on the education system to spend its shrinking resources more effectively.

There has been, first, an attempt to introduce into school curricula a greater understanding of society and of the role of industry and technology within society. There has been a ready acceptance of the need for much earlier vocational guidance, starting as young as 12 or 13, so that boys and girls have an opportunity to think about what their education purpose is, what they are going to use it for. There has been a greater acceptance of work experience, starting in many European countries now at the age of 15 or 16 and giving boys and girls in their last two years of compulsory education a period of several weeks working in a factory, or an office or farm so that they get some sense of what are the behavior patterns and the disciplines of the world of work. There has been a growing attempt to introduce industrialists onto the governing bodies of schools.

There has been specific experimentation, in fields like the alternative school movement in the US -- much of it directed at the school-tired or at the high school potential drop out. There has been, in Denmark, the continuation school often based around a training in a skill such as furniture-making, or farming or fishing, so that the child in the continuation school, typically often a boarding school, gets experience of actually sustaining his or her own livelihood.

There has been in England the development of the community school, the school in which space is made available for such community activities as old people's clubs, as underfive clubs, as community meetings of neighborhood groups and even extending to the inclusion of adults in ordinary school classes so that they can share in the education experience of their own children.

There has been the development of the US community college. And here I do not need to say more about that than it is one of the most open-ended systems of education both in terms of generational limitation and in terms of qualification limitations that anybody has seen in the educational world.

And then in quite a different sphere there has been development of industrial training into accepting a greater role for education. The most advanced system of industrial training anywhere in the world exists in the German-speaking countries of Europe -- in West Germany, Switzerland and Austria. It is a striking fact that 92 percent of school leavers in the German-speaking countries move on immediately to systems of apprenticeship that last for as long as three years and that combine vocational education with the experience of working as an apprentice in a factory or in a work place of some description.

It is not surprising that West Germany has by far the lowest level of youth unemployment of virtually any industrial country in the West. And I believe one of the most crucial reasons for that is that West Germany is unique, along with Switzerland and Austria, in having an effective system of transition from school to work so that young men and women are literally training for the jobs that they will later have.

Yet, West Germany has found that much of that training is too specific to a single skill . . . in moving towards the multifaceted industrial training that the new technologies demand in all our countries. . . .

In short, we must no longer train boys and girls for a single profession or a single skill but rather give them the foundation upon which in the course of a lifetime they can come back to education time and time again.

In Britain, a more recent experiment has been what is called youth guarantee [by] which any young person who is unemployed for more than six months after leaving school has the right, is guaranteed the right, to take up a short industrial course combined with basic education lasting for six months. The aim of that being to try to prepare unemployed boys and girls more effectively for the world of work. And although this scheme is in many ways elementary, I believe my British colleagues would bear me out in saying that there is a great deal of development in course work to be done. Nevertheless, it is striking that boys and girls who go through even this relatively elementary form of vocational preparation in 80 percent of cases get a job at the end of it, whereas the figure for those without that vocational preparation is under.

Now how does one change the higher education system? The answer again is that all sorts of exciting things are happening. There has been the adoption in France increasingly of paid educational leave as a right for people working in industry to come back and upgrade their knowledge and their skills. There has been the BRitish experiment of the open university, now extending to the idea of an open technical college so that individuals not able to attend higher education can learn by techniques of open learning and by being put in association with tutors on an idividual basis.

There has been in Germany the development of young men and women who are past their 18-year-old university entrance examinations going into apprenticeships before they go on to universities, a very interesting experiment in a country with very strict and, in many ways, rigid traditions of university education.

If you look at the Western world, you will see as a fundamental pattern of our thinking that we have over something like a century now based our accountancy practices, our technology, our engineering, and our economics on one single concept -- the concept of wherever possible substituting capital for human resources, replacing men and women with machines.

We are a capital intensive economic structure, so much so that we have even taken to the developing world, to countries with hands and brains and very little capital, our own capital intensive structures.

And now, as we in our own societies face the abundance of one resource -- manpower and womanpower -- and a growing scarcity of other resources -- energy, raw materials and land -- we need to learn from the developing world something about appropriate technologies, something about the development of human resources, something about the accounting for human assets, something about questioning our own persistent obsession with replacing human beings with almost anything else because we are energy wasteful, land wasteful, raw material was teful, and human being wasteful in the West.

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