Thursday 19 March 2015

What Britain Wants: The One about Work

It was the most interesting so far, so I will summarise it. (You might want to get the anti-depressants out, just in case). 

It was presented by the BBC News Channel's Clive Myrie and began with the story of how his own parents had emigrated from Jamaica to the UK in search of work. His mum and dad had both found stable employment here. At the end of the programme, however, Clive's mum said that if she'd been faced the same choice now, given the present lack of job security in the UK, they probably wouldn't have come.

Clive's Panorama traced that trajectory over time - from the good old days of the 1960s and 70s when jobs seemed to be for life, through the sadness of the miner's strike to the coming of globalisation (with its adapt-or-die impact on many companies), ending with fears that automation and new technology will destroy 10 million UK jobs over the next 10-20 years. No wonder Arvo Part's sad Spiegel Im Spiegel made its second heart-tugging appearance in the series

The programme's early stages concentrated on 'the Precariat' - a new class of people in precarious jobs, as outlined by London University professor Guy Standing - and on zero-hours contracts. A woman who hates zero-hours contracts and her lawyer were the focus here; their target Sports Direct. (Representatives from Sports Direct were absent). A government minister briefly turned up to say zero-hours contrasts are a good thing. 

The Sports Direct factory was built on an old mine, closed (we were told) by a Conservative government. Dennis Skinner and one of his NUM chums rued the day. Michael Heseltine conceded the government had no plans for the workforce after its closure. There's little hope in the town now. It's one of Britain's most deprived areas. 

With the coming of globalisation, companies like Doctor Martens outsourced jobs to China, laid off a thousand UK workers and nearly went bankrupt. They've bounced back by bringing the jobs back and diversifying. Their director wants politicians to do more to back British manufacturing. 

Manufacturing isn't where work seems to be moving though. Logistics hubs are the big new thing. 1 in 8 people working in Northamptonshire now work in the logistics industry. Many are paid little more than the minimum wage. Some colleges have been set up - first by Labour, then expanded by the coalition - to encourage skills. We saw a girl and boy training to become mechanical engineers. 

Automation is the greatest game-challenger though, Clive said. Angus Knowles-Cutler of Deloitte has done some research into its effects already: 
We were surprised by the results. We found that more than half of secretaries' jobs have disappeared in the past 14 years. The same for travel agents. The same for librarians. The same for county clerks.
He calculates that 35% of the jobs we currently do in the UK are "at high risk of disappearing, of being made redundant in the next ten to twenty years" - which translates as 10 million UK jobs.
Angus Knowles-Cutler: "I think everything we're seeing says this is a second industrial revolution but we don't know how quickly, and how well society can actually respond to those changes. DO we actually need to put the brakes on it? Is that possible in a competitive world?"
Clive Myrie: "The answer is, of course, 'no'. But success will depend on how well we adapt and how well we train the people we keep".
Youth unemployment is very high, Clive continued. Apprenticeship schemes are the key to dealing with this, it seems. One graduate apprentice at Doc Martens is enjoying hers and is excited to be employed.

Michael Heseltine thinks all these changes have been a good thing. Dennis Skinner thinks we've lost what's important. I think I'll take that anti-depressant pill now.


  1. Apologies for being off topic (albeit tangentially related to the topic of work), but I see the BBC has a new class war series going just in time for the final stretch into the election: Britain's Got the Builders In.

    Series looking at the relationship between builders and their clients.

    Oh, and purely coincidentally, they're repeating a failed attempt at agit-prop from a couple years back: "Inside Clardige's". The class war agenda from the producer on that one was so appallingly obvious and forced it on the staff so unfairly, it made me swear that if I ever had that real bit of extra money, I'd stay there just out of spite, and I would tell the staff about it.

    1. "In Royal Leamington Spa, builder Andy Graham takes on the renovation of a Victorian townhouse for client Kristian Goode. But Kristian's indecisiveness, a worsening financial situation and the proposed addition of a particularly flamboyant towel rail all make for tense times."

      Sounds like class TV, in more ways than one.

  2. It's all nothing as to what will happen when the robot revolution kicks in, in the next 10-20 years.

    Robot cars and lorries - goodbye to half the lorry driver, van driver and taxi jobs.

    Robot GPs - goodbye to half our GPs.

    Robot warehouse and shelf-stacker workers - goodbye to 90% of such jobs.

    All repetitive manufacturing jobs.

    That's just a few of the job sectors that will be virtually wiped out.

    1. That certainly is the way things seem to be going.

      At the risk of seeming robotic, 'Panorama' reckons 10 million jobs might go in the next 20 years, and you think that's an underestimate. Yet, for short-term needs, political/economist experts believe that mass immigration is beneficial. I can see a VERY big potential problem there for immigrants and non-immigrants in the not-too-distant future. That's going to be A LOT of very disappointed people.

      Another anti-depressant pill then.


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