Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Bullshit apprenticeships

You know that quote from Goebbels about the big lie? Let us recap: "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State."

We have come to a place in politics now which is directly influenced by Goebbels' cynical machinations. The Tories have evolved to realise the power that slick PR can have in implementing an unpalitable agenda. This is not a new phenomenon though, PR and spin have been a reality of politics since Kennedy marketed himself into the Whitehouse almost 50 years ago now. The only difference is the agenda and the scale of subterfuge attempted. Call me Dave and his gang are pushing through a cynical programme to break up the influence of the state more radical than anything attempted by Thatcher. To touch on a theme explored in an excellent article by George Monbiot, the conservatives of 2011 have learned that if you really want to hammer the poor to make the rich even richer, you don't shout and scream about it. You do it quietly with concerned yet warm look on your face. Tell them how you feel their pain, and wish there was another way, but there just isn't. Concilliation not confrontation. It works best of all if you can actually make people believe that the slap in the face you are handing them is for their own good.

While George wrote in the article above about the cynical dealings behind the scenes to make life easier for the rich and powerful, I want to talk about the other side of the coin. When a situation born out of contempt for the average person is marketed as being a great opportunity. In a word, apprenticeships. Apprenticeships, when used correctly, can be an excellent path to a stable career for the apprentice, and a way of allowing employers to invest in the kind of skilled workforce it needs while boosting productivity in a way not achievable through purely academic training. This has been a successful model in sectors like construction, engineering, plumbing, design etc for hundreds of years. And while it is true that Labour helped to create a stigma about vocational qualifications like apprenticeships during its regime, the need to rehabilitate apprenticeships is now being seized for more devious ends by the current Tory-led government.

Endless media campaigns are now flooding the local press all across Britain, and creeping into the nationals and broadcast media too; all telling us about the scandal of bias against apprenticeships. About how learning on the job is wonderful. No student-loan debt for today's savvy apprentices, thank you very much! Endless heads of chambers of commerce and college principles are falling over themselves to wax lyrical about vocational training. The thing is though, doesn't it depend on the vocation?

If your apprenticeship is setting you up with the skills to be a valuable resource in the labour market, giving you a trade and a career, then that's great. More and more though apprenticeships are being created in areas where they don't belong, as a way for employers to expolit their staff by not paying them the going rate. How would you like to be an apprentice in a call centre for example? Earning £95 a week (about two pounds an hour) for a job that would be miserable even if it paid ten times that amount. It doesn't stop there either. Apprentice administrator anyone? How about a pre-apprenticeship? That's right, a pre-apprenticeship. Unemployed people are now being offered the chance to volunteer on schemes lasting anything up to six months at the end of which they might get an apprenticeship if they do well enough. Yesterday I even saw an article about an apprentice street cleaner (local council's are being encouraged to participate in this apprenticeship revolution as the money saved on paying staff humane wages can be used to squeeze a few more miles out of our wonderful age of austerity).

How much is an NVQ Level 2 qualification to answer the phone to people having problems with their Virgin Media accounts really worth? I'll tell you, less than the paper its written on. All that 'qualifies' you to do is work in a call centre. The kind of basic training which used to be provided at a reasonable wage is now being sold to you as an opportunity you should be grateful to be given £2 an hour to participate in. So in 2011 what have we learned? That Goebbels clearly wasn't quite as good a liar as our man Dave. You don't hide an unpalatable truth from the people, silly. You give it a different name and tell them its a wonderful new dawn. Doublespeak never looked so good.

To learn more about the government's push on apprenticeships, visit http://www.apprenticeships.org.uk/

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