Sunday, 28 July 2013

# 80 (2013) The Empowerment Playlist

Everyone should have an empowerment playlist.

If you haven't got one, try putting one together. I fill mine with music for when I'm losing direction or need to be reminded about who I am. The words give me a symbolic kick up the arse. But after that, it's all down to me.

My list doesn't have any high culture in it. It's mostly pop and if the stars singing the lyrics had stuck by the words it would have been iconic. But I don't think they all did.

I have on the other hand. And there are one or two in particular that I use at any point I start to lose my nerve or forget what the hell it is I am supposed to be doing with my life. Some of them come from worse times in my life. They remind me of where I used to be and where I don't want to be again.

Monday, 22 July 2013

# 79 (2013) When I Was Twelve

When I was 12 I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a business owner, a costumier and a writer. All together. All at the same time. I didn't want to change the world. I wanted to make a dent. To be remembered for something. Funny how things work out.

I don't doubt for one minute that I see those aspects of my childhood and think there was a core group of kids my age who all believed in themselves and kept on going. I know they weren't all like that but I like to think things were better 'back in my day'.

Working with a new generation of young people approaching their first milestone in education - their GCSE results - has, not so much opened my eyes to some of the difficulties they face today, but perhaps reaffirmed to me that there are REAL challenges for them in the midst of a negative economic led era and a lack of social integration.

Economic downturn, office-tied parents, kids who get no direction and aren't made to feel valued - these are all aspects of childhood I didn't see. And I realise that makes me lucky. When you're young I guess your eyes aren't open to everything and sometimes you don't see how your own situation affects you. You accept things for how they are. Because what else do you know?

You shouldn't expect young people at this age to know what they want to do with the rest of their lives but you do hope they have passions and dreams of where they might be in 10 years time. For some of these children there seems to be nothing. Their future stretches out like a desert. Some are indifferent to that. And that worries me.

Leading by example: Malala Yousafzai's life changing experiences have provided her with a unique standpoint (source)

Sunday, 14 July 2013

# 78 (2013) Kids Today

I am currently working for a Government scheme that aims to give young people a chance to operate outside the classroom. It is designed to encourage team building, communication, direction, personal goals and arm young people with a better understanding of the real world and the maturity to be successful in whatever they choose to do with their lives.

Whilst I was training and reading about how unprepared our kids are for life after education, everything seemed hypothetical. You read about all the ways they plan to get school leavers ready for work, skilled and enthusiastic and you watch from afar and think it won’t work. And I was sceptical about the scheme I had just joined. I could see how in theory it would work, but in practice? 

I have now completed my first week on campus with my ‘team’ of 11 and observed not only them but the campus in general. 

Most of mine are all remarkably lucky young people. They come from comfortable enough backgrounds to have had good all round educations. They are not rich but they are members of clubs and social teams and they are enthusiastic, bright and keen to try new things. I have only one who does not come from this sort of background and the differences between them and their team mates is startling. 

The scheme they are enrolled on does not discriminate between background, disability, financial stability or academic or vocational ability. It is open to all aged 15- 17, whether they be in full time authority education, SEN schools or in another type of educational environment suitable for the age group. Even NEETS get a look in through job centres and other schemes. 

But it struck me quite early on that the general uptake of this project is generally white, middle / working class female students, despite the huge range of initial application forms. No student can be forced to attend. But there is also no excuse for any child not to attend. 

It’s a fantastic opportunity for any young person and I’d encourage any parent to enrol their child but I am concerned about those under achieving students lacking in confidence or motivation who have not attended. Those young people who already have these skills will lap it up and love it. But all in all, is their benefit from it greater or even as good as those young people from less privileged backgrounds who may never have left their own county in their entire lives, who may never get the chance to try archery, raft building or learn to work as a team to read maps across open country? They are simple enjoyments for many children, but for others, just something other people do and something others are too afraid to try.

Motivation is addictive. Once you discover it and the world outside there can be no stopping you. But if you’re used to entertaining yourself in front of a TV, maybe hanging around with your equally unenthusiastic friends in the local park how are you to discover this? Negativity and a lack of direction breed all sorts of problems. 

Already within this generation of young people I can see the cavernous divides between their desire for life, positivity, ability to work with others and emotional and communicative development, purely by the stimulation they get in their home environment and from their peers and family. 

If a young person is told they will never go to University because only ‘clever people go there’ and they have no interests and are afraid to try new things because they are scared of failing or being laughed at, how are they going to survive in life? Because all these things are day to day hurdles that we all face, mostly without a second thought. But for these children who are told they will not amount to much or are not encouraged to do anything constructive, how are they to apply themselves? 

It is not money that gives these children these opportunities. It is a simple sense of being, of appreciation, of value, of being encouraged and praised and if you don’t give these things your children will not know how to make their way in the world, and this is where the problems begin. 

My second week on campus is about to start. It is far more academic than last week where we camped in fields and climbed walls and swam in lakes. And I am intrigued at how things will progress. And I watch the fearful amongst my group and hope they will find themselves and what it is they are meant for in this world. 

Because you cannot teach this stuff. It has to be found from within.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

# 77 (2013) It's Time To Deal With Our Burgeoning Graduate Population

Could we please all start directing our school leavers to websites like this, rather than websites like this?

Because if there is one thing I'm fairly sure of, it's that getting school leavers onto work schemes that teach them business skills, social skills, work ethics and gives them an income whilst they are still living at home, has to be better than three years in the hermetically sealed environment of the classroom living off what is essentially a Government handout.

Study rooms give a classroom protected view of working environments which offer them little experience of what life is really like and does not shape them ready for the real world. Additionally, it means that those students who are severely academically lacking may never get a job at all, which probably partly explains our huge problem with youth unemployment.

It strikes me that we don't need any more post-graduate students. We need skilled workers not statistic meeting, classroom boffins. Now, this may seem like a hark back to the old days of the 'class system'. And that's because it is. And what is wrong with the class system? Not everyone is an academic. Not everyone is fit for Government office, and not everyone can be a plumber. We have a class system because we are an animal with a pecking order and you cannot change that no matter how many degrees you introduce or how many times you put up the minimum wage.

There are people who are good with their hands and not their minds and they have huge potential in the job market if they are given the right education and the right direction. Putting vocational students into academic classrooms and converting vocational courses in BA's and MA's kills these students potential because it is sterile and nonconstructive to their needs and abilities.

And because it is all about hitting targets it often makes their industry appear pretentious (I use fashion and Graduate Fashion Week as a case in point) and unrealistic.

We killed off the polytechnic years ago. But the apprenticeship is making a comeback. Businesses are already seeing the advantage to taking apprentices under their wing. But we need more. To me it represents possibly the best chance we have of rescuing our floundering employment market and our lack of properly skilled workers.

Vocational skills are learnt on the job and not in the classroom. They help students to decide what they want to do because they get the opportunity to try the job for real. How many students have gone through the university system only to discover they don't like the industry they spent three years training to join? 

That nothing seems to change year on year just surprises me. Everything seem to be about statistics and league tables these days, not about people and aspirations and abilities. And it just doesn't work. 

Vocational skills are learnt on the job, not in the classroom (source)

# 76 (2013) How Much Is Enough?

Going back into the job market after a four year absence (three years of Uni plus one year of running my own business full time) it's easy to see why your average Joe in full time employment is struggling to make ends meet. Even living in a house share with fairly basic outlays I still have to factor in an additional £287 a month to cover tax and national insurance contributions to leave me just enough money to live on.

This means I still have to find a job that pays me over £1000 a month in order to survive. My second trade before I decided to go to Uni as a mature student was in administration. I spent years as a PA in London and the surrounding counties mostly in the temping market. Then, it was a lucrative business and often lead to good secure full time jobs. But things have changed a lot and temping just scrapes minimum wage these days. Temps aren't trusted as they used to be and I believe this may have something to do with the screening processes at agencies and the lax attitude of some staff. Attitudes that were few and far between when I was working in London. Companies now, seem to presume you're temping because you're not much good, otherwise you'd have a full time job.

I genuinely cannot work out how people with financial commitments like mortgages, children and debts, manage to survive at all. Maybe they don't. Maybe that's why foodbanks are so essential these days. There are plenty of employed people using them. Perhaps we're all living hand to mouth to a certain extent - living in fear of redundancy and hoping things will change.

It's changed a lot from when I was last employed and that wasn't all that long ago. Tax was 17.5% back then. Now it's 20%. The old rate would have saved me £22.38 a month. That may not sound like much of a saving but over the course of a year that's about £268. For a couple that's a holiday or home improvement, or tax and an MOT on a car.

Where does it end? Will tax go up again next year? Will the price of food continue to rise? Will we all just have to get rid of cars, mobile phones, turn off the central heating? The knock on effect of all these things on our economy is catastrophic and in turn makes the little man have to pull in the purse strings another notch.

What's the breaking point? When do we finally say enough is enough, we cannot live like this any more. It strikes me there's probably a way to go yet and more awful stories of how people are struggling will come out. It's going to get messier and more brutal.

And for those of you lucky enough to have no idea what I'm talking about, I hope you never have to.

Last October food bank numbers reached record levels (source)