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Andrew Sissons
Researcher, Big Innovation Centre
T 020 7976 3609
Andrew  Sissons

Graduates - you need to think as well as do

Authors: Andrew Sissons Andrew Sissons

08 October 2010

Simon Jenkins today extols the virtues of manual work in his article Graduates shouldn’t be afraid of the chisel and oil can. While he is right to say that working with one’s hands can be a rewarding and fruitful venture, his suggestion that graduates should abandon their cerebral career aspirations in favour of more traditional crafts is badly mistaken.

Jenkins supports a stronger UK manufacturing sector and he is absolutely right here – the only problem is that most of the manual jobs he celebrates are not actually in manufacturing at all. Plumbers, cooks and gardeners are all vital professions, but they are in the oft-maligned service sector. Many of Britain’s bright young minds do go into our top manufacturing firms – the likes of BAE Systems and Rolls Royce – but they are not just making things, they are also designing, testing and branding world class products. According to the OECD, only 45% of jobs in manufacturing in the UK actually involve making things. The majority of our value-added from manufacturing comes from so-called ‘manu-services’ – highly skilled people who trade in cutting edge ideas.

We need to remember the types of jobs Britain has lost during this recession and where the new jobs will come from, based on data from recent recessions. In the 12 months before March 2010, the UK shed 370,000 ‘production’ jobs and 230,000 jobs in ‘traditional services’. Meanwhile, despite the poisonous economic climate, the UK actually created an extra 150,000 jobs in knowledge-based areas, such as scientific, technical and recreational services. A glance at the figures from previous recessions tells much the same story. As The Work Foundation has consistently shown, it is the same knowledge economy that Jenkins wants consigned to history that is leading the UK out of recession, and will form the basis of our future prosperity.

No one doubts that those who have graduated into this recession (a group which includes me in its number) have suffered, and will continue to suffer. But their future lies in creating and exploiting the big ideas that will keep the UK economy at the forefront of the global economy, rather than abandoning their education and aspiration.


Comments in Chronological Order (Total 1 Comments)

Alan Knight

05 Jan 2011 12:53PM

"I saw this letter in the LDN and the writer said he was happy for it to be posted on your blog but asked me to do it because he was a Luddite who did not use the Internet. I think more and more people are taking this view and asking why those unable to get to university should have their taxes used to pay for the fees of the clever ones to study subjects that do not benefit the economy in any way.:- Dear Editor: (Liberal Democrat News) I am involved in a £500 million construction project with about 450 people on site. Less than 10% of those people have (or need!) a college degree. But over 10% of the workers will be foreign, because the UK lacks skilled workers to perform the tasks. They play key roles in delivering the project and will have significant responsibilities. Many of these skilled workers will earn far more than college graduates will, even ten years after leaving college and possibly over their entire career. I believe that many Lib Dems are evincing inappropriate elitism through their rhetoric against increasing tuition fees, implying that only people with a college education can contribute to a modern economy, obtaining fulfilling positions with significant responsibility. To further imply that it takes a degree to make a well- rounded individual is ludicrous. The assumption that a college education, paid for by the state, is the only way to build a “fair, free and open society” displays an ignorance of how different people are and how different their capabilities and aspirations are. It also shows a breathtaking arrogance in presuming there is one agreed definition of ‘success.’ Yours sincerely, Jon Burden "