Pies and Skies

May 7, 2009

From the BBC:

There are now too few jobs for UK graduates, and the gap between the supply of high-level workers and jobs for them is growing, a report suggests.

The report by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills says businesses need to show more vision and be more ambitious to offer highly skilled jobs.

Or, from another perspective, there are too many media studies graduates and not enough plumbers.

With regard to the high skills “mismatch”, it says the growth in high skill people significantly exceeds the growth in high skill jobs, with an increase in overqualified staff, particularly graduates…To change this, investment should be made in raising the ambitions of employers as well as skills supply…”The UK has too few high performance workplaces,” it concludes.

This really is extremely vacuous. It’s all about aspiration, about “ambition” and thinking big. You can, of course, just think or “aspire” an economy into existence which provides everyone with the job that they desire or deserve.

One other aspect of employees being “too qualified for their jobs” – in the words of TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber – is that firms are holding back highly qualified people, keeping them in low grade, low paid positions for longer so as to save cash.

This kind of chatter is of a piece with a political and economic elite which is incapable of acting to reshape the economy, yet is happy to generate a stratum of highly skilled potential employees, should the need arise.

The wages of that pool of uber-proles can then be modulated – and they are far less likely to unionize to boot.

It echoes the babble of Peter Mandelson, who told the CBI this week that the recession is essentially a mental event, not the product of economic processes or structural problems.

“A recession,” he opined, “is a psychological event as well as an economic one. It is an expression of our confidence to invest and spend, of our confidence in ourselves and in the future.”

This is very congenial to elites, who don’t want to act if they can avoid it. For New Labour, radical intervention in the economy would be an admission of failure. Twelve years of “modernization” down the drain. A policy cadre unmasked as the loafing charlatans that they are.

Aside from that, if they did want to act, it’s hardly clear that they would have a clue how to do so. Hence the obsession with recapitalizing banks. Let the mavens in the financial world sort out our woes. Let there be lending.

Anything but taking responsibility as politicians and bringing the faltering banks into public ownership, where their liabilities could be sorted out and their future structures reconsidered.

So there’s a bit of laziness, and a lot of cowardice at work, but also a genuine belief in the power of  motivation – of symbols and slogans – to change stubborn reality. And there is, of course, also the terribly powerful desire to protect wealthy allies from change, which tends to afflict politicians who see themselves as on the cusp of ejection from office.

But where does this leave graduates? Well, it leaves them frustrated and poorer, to be sure. And it could all be very different. Public investment in sustainability measures, such as community planning, energy consultancy,  refitting properties, designing productive urban agriculture systems – all of this can be provided or encouraged by public support. And that means jobs, good jobs.

Unfortunately, it also means that Mandelson and co. would actually have to do something (that isn’t wrecking the Post Office), which is awfully unlikely to happen.

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