Should we be learning the job by degrees?

*Photo: All Jane wants is a plumber

First published in the Isle of Thanet News of Friday 21st August 2020

 I still dream about my A-levels. This nightmare is always the same. It is May or June and I realise exams must be imminent. But unfortunately, I haven’t been to school for weeks, let alone opened a book. (A fair approximation of the situation I was in fact in, 40 years ago). I wake up in a lather of relief that I need never sit another paper again. If the coronavirus had struck when I was in the sixth form, I’d have thought all my Christmases had come at once.

My heart goes out to students affected by the results debacle – and to their anxious parents too. My son was pretty laid back when sitting his A-levels – I felt as sick as a parrot. There is something wrong with a system that causes so much stress and anxiety. Where so much depends on grades right now, that will never matter again.  No-one will care what you got an A or a B in, once you have your degree. They may not care much about your degree either.

I know young people who diligently got their 2:1s, who are now working variously as estate agents, in pizza parlours and moving railway sleepers about. Did they really need fifty grand’s worth of student debt to do that?

It seems to me that these days, unless you study medicine or science, the contents of fewer and fewer degrees are actually carried into one’s working life.

So, who dreamt up the necessity for three years’ study for career paths that used to involve starting out by making the tea and then working your way up?

I have never run a hotel, for example, but if I shadowed the manager for six weeks, I know I could. And so could you. Without a degree in ‘Hotel Management’. Similarly, I’ve organised a great number of Corporate Golf Days, conferences and charity bashes in my time. Without even a sniff at the syllabus of  ‘Event Planning’. Since when did we need “qualifications” for jobs that only require reasonable intelligence and a dollop of common sense?  While more and more degrees are introduced that equip you to do nothing much.

You can come out with letters after your name in ‘Pop Culture” these days.  Or ‘Cake Technology Management’. Author and cat groomer Anita Kelsey has a first-class honours degree in ‘Feline Behaviour and Psychology’. This could at least be useful if I want to get to the bottom of why I am frequently woken by heart-rending wails suggesting near-starvation at 4am, just so that I can stumble downstairs to view an untouched bowl of cat biscuits and the rear end of a cat disappearing. Or why a suitable resting place for a chewed mouse head is deemed to be inside one of our trainers. (I’ve pre-ordered her book Let’s Talk About Cats. It’s out in November.)

Practical education is one thing. A degree in ‘Brewing and Distilling’ could lead to a gainful job (and provide a useful service) but a BA in ‘David Beckham’ or ‘Pizza Hut’ Studies’? These are both real courses. What happened to the promises of apprenticeships and real skills that society needs? You can lose your life waiting for a decent electrician to have a spare half-day and I challenge you to find a proper carpenter who’s under 65.  The British Meat Processors Association has already warned the Government about a shortage of butchers…

Ah, but it’s the leaving home, I hear you cry. The gaining of independence, the chance to stretch the mind and horizons, to build new friendships and find one’s inner strengths. Leaving aside the view that you can do this a lot more cheaply by digging wells in Africa or working in a shelter for the homeless, I am indeed all for kids having the university experience and building up their immune systems in shared student kitchens. But really, couldn’t they do it just for six months or so – and then train to be a plumber?

My book, ONE GLASS IS NEVER ENOUGH, the perfect novel to relax with this summer, now has a new cover – I love it!

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