Preparing young people for work and enterprise – is this really our job?

Within youth work today it seems to be taken-for-granted that a primary purpose is the preparation of young people for work – even though ‘proper’ jobs are at a premium. This problematic focus is accompanied by ritual references to encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit amongst young people. Richard Branson calls for a nation of bright-eyed young entrepreneurs!

Against this background it’s well worth reading two pieces that beg to differ.

Controversially the blog The crisis of work  dares to question the very definition of work today. They propose the demand for a workless wage. Like it or not their analysis will ring true for many young people.

For all its vehemence, the mythical sanctity of work remains out of step with people’s actual experience of work; its misery, its scarcity, its pointlessness. The decline of work is a reality which we live day to day, and which causes enormous psychological distress – anxiety, misery, feelings of despair and worthlessness.

In his guest blog Youth and the ‘Enterprise Culture‘ Robert McDonald, Professor of Sociology at Teeside University, reflects critically on lessons to be learnt from research he undertook in the 1980’s on this very relationship.

He closes his piece  “with the words of Lynne, a 28 year-old single mother, whose fruit and vegetable market stall had failed. Hopefully her story provides some balance to the shiny words, fake promises and renewed clamour for a ‘youth enterprise culture’; to claims that ‘entrepreneurial ambitions are unequivocally good’. Lynne reflected on her time self-employed at the end of the 1980s:

 It was something I had to try. I was going nowhere … I wanted to climb. I wanted self-esteem. Looking back, it’s been totally the opposite. I’d had two relationships that’d failed. My life has been a failure since leaving college to now. I needed something to succeed. As it happens, I failed in that too. Perhaps I’m just a born failure! But at least I’ve had the experience. I haven’t just sat back moaning on the dole. I’ve tried to get out of the poverty trap. Fine, it didn’t work but … Now, a year later, I have £10,000 debt, rising with interest …  I’ve had the County Sheriff on my doorstep with a Possession Order. Because he was a nice chap and he saw I had a kid, he left the furniture … I’m between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea … I’m stuck, just waiting for the axe to fall … I’ve went through hell mentally with it. Strait-jacket time. St. Nicks’ here I come…”

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