Friday, February 06, 2009

Totally British Jobs

If you've nothing better to do on a dark February evening and feel tempted to Google the political archives, then you'll find that some twenty years ago, the UK's present workforce skills deficit was writ large upon the wall.

Gordon Brown's famous statement announcing British jobs for British workers has returned to haunt him this month but one has to ask why foreign companies, such as Total, think it more sensible to bus in their specialist workers from as far afield as Italy rather than recruit the necessary skills locally?

Back in the mid eighties, when I first dipped a toe in the political waters, I was asked to join Shirley Williams, Anne Sofer, Dr John Rae and several others in writing a House of Lords report on the UK's existing skills deficit. It was published as a Parliamentary White Paper (or was it Green, I can't quite recall) but it's in the archives somewhere because stumbled upon it quite by accident recently against a Google search against my name.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, those distinguished politicians and academics and this rather wet behind the ears IT columnist, looked at the education record of countries such as Japan and Germany and concluded that good old Britain would be up the creek without the proverbial paddle within a generation, unless Government, of any colour, woke up to the fact that as a nation we were becoming increasingly uncompetitive in a world that demanded a higher level of education and skills from developed nations. At the time, countries like Japan and Germany were churning out ten times the number of university-trained engineers and skilled apprentice jobs.

Fast forward to the 21st century and we've happily been creating millions of expensive finance, service and above all, public sector jobs, at the expense of the skillsets that we need to be competitive and which may go some way to explaining why UK manufacturing is moribund and why some companies might be tempted to offshore their workload or look for their skilled workers from abroad when they can't find what they need at home.

So there you have it, every Government since 1985 has known what it had to do to make this country competitive but none has managed to put in place the urgent programme that we needed as a nation to catch-up and compete on equal terms with our European neighbours, except perhaps in terms of 'Smoking Cessation Officers', Health & Safety Inspectors and of course a legion of overpaid and increasingly unemployed bankers.

"British Jobs for British workers"; it does sound a rather hollow promise twenty years too late.


Tony Beachcomber said...

In 1985 most sheet metal working in the UK had a certain amount of skill in the production process alsio including the manufacturing of hard tooling etc.,
By 2005 the ball game had changed, we now have the work churned out by CNC machines using multi tooling or CNC lasers.Even the tooling is now CNC manufactured. There is no longer any skills involved in machined sheet metal work, the computors do it all. The computor works out the programmes from a diagram they are down loaded into the machines, the machine sets itself and the operator is a just a machine minder. This can be done anywhere in the world to the same quality the only difference is how much the machine operator is being paid.

tony flaig bignews said...

As some who has worked along side essential workers with the right skillsets, I have found nothing to separate our co-workers from the east other than the fact they get paid less and know that they will be up S**t creek without a job if they don't work 7 days a week day in day out

DrMoores said...

Fine point Tony. It's not to say we haven't the skilled workers, we have lots of them but not enough to meet the global challenges of a 21st century that requires a different type of workforce to that of the 20th century.

I suppose the same could have been said at the outset of the industrial revolution in the 19th century but then it was Britain and characters such as Brunel - and even Karl Marx holidaying and writing in Margate - that set the pace for the world to follow.

Today, most high level research jobs exist outside the UK and the CBI wrings its hands in despair at the increasingly uncompetitive nature of our society and its vulnerability to the recession or potential depression that now surrounds us.

That reminds me.. Michael, do you have a second hand copy of Das Kapital in stock. This is probably the time for us all to re-visit his theories!

Michael Child said...

Much of this can be laid at the snobbery of John Major and Tony Blair a target of 3 As to Cs at GCSE, leaves many of the lads who would have been my apprentices when I worked in engineering, that are not necessarily academically inclined, without any self respect in the educational system, so they just become disruptive.

I didn’t expect an apprentice fitter to be able to quantify the effects of Laurence’s Oedipus complex on sons and Lovers but knew damned well that if his math was a bit weak it could be cured by day release at Tech, particularly now that he could see a bigger bulge in the wage packet at then of the tunnel.

Incidentally I am not being sexist when I worked in engineering I never encountered a female apprentice, fitter, millwright etc, just a sign of the times I think.

Sorry Simon we don’t only Grundrisse at the moment it’s a difficult one to find secondhand not expensive new Amazon should do the trick.

The Refuser said...

I think the problem goes back much further than twenty years. If you read Corelli Barnett’s excellent history of the Royal Navy in the Second World War he makes the observation that Britain invented the cavity magnetron, but the authorities couldn’t get the equipment manufactured in Britain because of the poor standard of manufacturing. They had to give the invention to the US and have the valves built there.
If you go further back the engineer was perceived by the establishment as being a grubby oik. The clever people became lawyers and Doctors. Britain now reminds me of the part in Douglas Adams Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Ford and Arthur Dent find themselves aboard an Ark containing only hair dressers, politicians, lawyers and allied “service industry” folk. They land on a planet but are unable to fend for themselves. That in a nutshell is where Britain is. Schools that churn out kids with “good” GSCE grades but they are barely literate. Not encouraging for the long term I venture to suggest.

Nemesis said...

Kaiser Bill 1908

Professor R V Jones WW2

Airey Neave MP 1950s

Sean Garland IRA Army Ruling Council 1962

Institute of Electrical Engineers 1984 published report

Adolf Hitler 1942 (losing war to win peace)

Woolwich Arsenal 1890s (I think re Japanese head hunting our best engineers)

Nye Bevin 1920s et seq

Plenty of warnings prior to your report Simon.

The enemy artisan is also his soldier think well on this ?

The nail in the coffin was postwar when government went for full employment. Our industry was out of date before 1914. By sending the wartime women workforce back to the kitchen sink and remanning uncompetitive industry we done for ourselves.

Then we tried to be both a welfare state and an independent nuclear power. Just not possible in a nigh bankrupt country.

And the educational theorists drew up an education system which wastes kids' lives for ten years teaching nothing about everything.

Maggie Thatcher hastened the end by enshrining the most damaging restrictive practice of all "Management right to manage". The IEE Report of 1984 found that 93% of managers in the industry are unqualified parasites. And that is reflected by the report on the serious nuclear leak at Dounreay. Where was the expertise ? Well there were layers of management all trying to prescribe procedures. There was a Nuclear Inspectorate Inquiry looking at the management procedures. Mmmmm, who actually knows how it work though ?

British jobs for British workers is not just an economic issue. It is a strategic issue when it comes to energy supply and distribution and petrochem processing.

The media misrepresent the contractor concerns as being purely self interest.