James Max - James Max is a broadcaster, columnist and business expert

It’s time for a reality check on unemployment

Unemployment is up. What we need is an attitude change. Not a raft of political rhetoric, disturbance or social engineering plan to shift wealth.

The figures make for a grim read. 2.62 million unemployed at the last count. 1.02 million of those are aged between 16 and 24. Regardless of your political leanings, this is concerning. If you want a blamestorm for the rise in the numbers, there’s plenty to throw into the mix. The EU crisis, cuts to public spending, uncertainty about the future, red tape in employment laws and the current tax structure. That’s only the start of it since failings in the educational system at school and university levels, attitude problems, benefit levels are just some of the other excuses.

Policy for the past 30 years has pandered to our inability and unwillingness to tackle causes rather than symptoms. The manifestation of this has, surprisingly, been in our cultural pickings. Previously, if you wanted to get into the music business, theatre or the arts you went to school, you worked hard, perhaps in your spare time and took part in school productions and plays, orchestras and concerts and then, if you were really talented you went to a music school, drama college or used your higher education as a platform to learn your craft. Now we have the carrot of instant success and recognition. Mass entertainment shows have changed the game. It’s not all bad of course and it does provide a feast of entertainment for us the viewer. Plenty of fine acts have navigated their way through to become household names. Terrific, I say.

However there has been a corrosive impact. Particularly on the younger element of society. The notion that hard work isn’t required in order to make it. If we are to tackle the corrosive impact of youth unemployment, we are going to have to change an attitudinal problem. Since 1995, when the economy began to boom, so those coming out of school and higher education had employers throwing themselves at bright-eyed potential new recruits. Fast track this and higher paid that. Back in the real world, for all the rhetoric, it isn’t government that’s going to fix the problem; it’s down to the individual.

There are jobs out there. Not perhaps the ones you want. Not perhaps with the salary you want either. However what we do know is that unless you can demonstrate that you are the right person for that job, you won’t be successful. That means having a hard look at the skills you possess. The way you speak. The way you communicate. The attitude you have. The method of application. The dedication you demonstrate.

When I graduated from university in 1992, it’s arguable that the economy was in a worse state than it is now. Interest rates were fearsomely high. As a result the job cuts, particularly in the private sector, were fast and decisive. It was impossibly difficult to borrow personally and corporately. Not because the money wasn’t there. Just that the cost was prohibitive. There were jobs available but the processes were tough. Half the usual number of recruits were being taken on and companies were very fussy about who they employed. The money was fairly awful and the experience was sometimes questionable. Yet that wasn’t the point. The point was to get on the ladder. To do so you had to prove that you were right for the job. Once in employment you had to prove that you were prepared to work hard and provide value for money.

I worked hard. Long hours, yes. But I also used every opportunity I had to gain more experience, develop skills and become so valuable that if another jobs cull took place, I would not be in the firing line. Having been through that economic period, I look now with an element of despair. Whilst some of our youngsters are of course innovative, bright, fast paced, efficient and impressive, there is a significant minority that has no idea. No idea how to present themselves. No interest getting in the job they want. No idea how to engage socially with those around them and as a result are making themselves unemployable. Worse than that they blame the government, society or others around them for their own predicament. Yes, times are tough but that is no excuse to be despondent or to blame others for your own situation.

Yes, the government has a role to play. Red tape should be reduced, tax incentives for hiring and training, Stamp Duty should be cut to get the housing market moving are just some of the measures that could be changed. Ed Balls has come up with some ideas that should be considered too. The cutting of VAT for home improvements could help (although much of the gain could be into the hands of foreign workers who migrate to Britain rather than feeding into the UK economy). I don’t see this as a partisan issue. I see it as a national disgrace that we have avoided the real issues.

Here’s my ten-point plan for making Britain employable:

i) Raise standards of written and spoken English
ii) Improve numeracy and financial understanding
iii) Revolutionise attitude and approach to hard work
iv) Reduce employment red tape ensuring it’s easier to fire as well as hire (and have a 1 year NI holiday for employers)
v) Simplify the tax regime for companies and individuals and increase incentives to invest and hire
vi) Reintroduce technical colleges to replace second rate universities
vii) Reduce stamp duty to get the housing market moving
viii) Reform the benefits system so it’s always better to work than not
ix) Intervene with high street banks who apply excessive charges to customers
x) Offer free public transport use for 16-24 year olds for 1 year if they come off benefits and into a full time job

The most important thing is to change attitudes. Hard work has to come back into the lexicon for all of us but particularly for those wanting to get onto the jobs ladder. Enough of the “lost generation” chat. It’s a myth perpetrated by those who believe that everything should be handed to them on a plate.

We have become used to blaming everyone else for our problems. Perhaps, again, because of the media. It’s always someone else’s fault. Stop the blame. Now is the time to dust yourself down, use the resources available to you, work incredibly hard and to prove that once again that Britain deserves to have the prefix “Great”.

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