83. Preparation

I said milk and NO sugar! Give me your hand, boy

In olden days black and white Britain, when class structure reigned supreme, a child’s fate was more or less sealed before its fifth birthday.  If you were born into a working class family then the odds were when you left school you would spend the next 50 years on building sites or down the coal mines.  If you were born into a slightly more middle class family you were more or less going to be an office clerk or salesman and if you were loaded you’d end up either managing a bank or in Westminster Palace.

This dynamic really continued all the way up to the 60’s and 70’s, it was very difficult to “move up” the social order.  In most cases you left school at the age of 15 with nothing to show for your troubles other than some nasty scars on your palms and a disdain for authority.  University was a privilege for the privileged, out of reach to the majority of the population.  In all honesty however, Britain in those days did actually work.  There was always a strong work ethic, whether you were down t’ mines or on the building site, or in the office or in Barclays you worked hard.  You knew that if you didn’t work hard then you would lose your job and your family would starve.  There were no hand outs to back you up.

Really, school didn’t come into it.  It was simply something to keep you occupied between the ages of 5 and 15, and maybe teach you the alphabet and times tables, and that the cane hurt.  Who taught you about the real world, like work, were your parents.  They knew that you were going to end up mixing cement and that if you lost that job you were finished.  It wasn’t the school’s job to prepare you.  And you know what, life worked.  It wasn’t easy, but it  worked.

As I trawled through the internet this morning I came across an article that made me very cross.  It was stated by a recent survey that schools in the UAE are failing to prepare students for the workplace.  Easy as that, right?  Of course, let’s blame the schools.  Sigh.

Across the world from the West to the Middle East there is a becoming a dependency culture.  Children must be prepared for the workplace at school, apparently.  What rubbish.  It is simply not fair to expect a teacher to prepare anywhere between 20 and 65 students for the working world each year.  The job of a teacher is to teach, to develop the children and to help them use their own minds, to give them confidence.  Not spoon feed them a list of rules to follow to the letter: “now class, today I am going to show you how to use a filing cabinet and how to email an invoice to a customer.”

Of course, everyone has to have a first day of work, but it depends solely on what you are doing.  The best people to prepare you for a life of graft are your parents.  If you don’t have their support then you will struggle much, much more than those that do.  Basic life skills were taught to me by my father, not my teachers.  He taught me about playing the game and starting at the bottom and earning respect.

Apparently 1500 students were surveyed and claim that they feel “unprepared” for the workplace.  I’m not surprised but why are you telling us?  Go and ask mum or dad for advice.  Or, if you’re feeling brave, go and prepare yourself by doing some research.  You cannot expect your school to burden that responsibility, it’s just not practical.

The article contained a quote by the study researcher and he claims that the sense of un-readiness was felt mainly by young people in their first 5 years of work.  Whoa, whoa, whoa, back the truck up there.  You’re telling me that after 5 years in the workplace you still don’t have a clue what’s going on and still want to hold your school accountable?  That’s insane.

What made me smile was that the researcher said that for most of the young adults, their first day in the workplace was their first experience of work.  No shit.  It went on to say that they struggle to interact with difficult colleagues and managers, and whose fault it that, your Grade 4 teachers?  No, it’s yours. Of course these days you’re not allowed to upset anyone because it will make them cry.  What?  They’re allowed to be useless and incompetent at their jobs and still remain employed because it’s not their fault?

One of the men tasked with dealing with this so-called crisis has tried to get universities to place more emphasis on preparing under-graduates for the workplace.  Great, so after a 7 year degree in architecture he may not be able to design a bridge but he will know exactly how many sugars his boss takes in his morning coffee.  The result is that young people arrive at the workplace with unrealistic expectations but really, is it fair to blame the schools for that?  Apparently there isn’t enough time in the schools curriculum to hold CV writing seminars and the like, so it’s plainly obvious that focus should be towards the parents.

My solution is simple.  The UK and the UAE are actually quite similar in this regard so lets re-visit 1950’s Britain, if you lost your job on a building site there was no welfare safety net to catch you.  These day’s there isn’t just a safety net, but a massive inflatable cushion of cash to bounce you back up again.  Take it away.  Because if there’s nothing to fall back on you’ll be surprised how quickly the lazy work ethic disappears…

Failing that, bring back the cane.

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