Today's Sunday Post column in full
Tut, tut, tut.
If you are going to tell Holyrood's powerful Finance Committee that 80% of Scottish school leavers are effectively unemployable – you really should turn up on time.
But last week the boss of GTC Training – Arnold Clark's apprenticeship wing – didn't turn up at all.
Why have 80% of young people applying to Arnold Clark apparently got poor attitude and communication skills, no understanding of standards and a "culture of wholly unrealistic expectations?" Do some young people have problems adjusting to real work after "state sponsored babysitting" at college?
Sadly, we'll never know.
David Scott GTC CEO sent his apologies – he had a prior engagement. Jings, that's brave. If you're going tae pull a sickie, the Finance Committee are not the guys tae stand up.
One -- they complain. Two – they remember. And three – some of them didn't much like the way Scotland's youth were roundly trashed. I must say, neither did I.
In the absence of hard fact we are left to speculate on what's going on with a nation's children. Those of us with children and grand-children trying to enter the job market will use our own experience. Do you know many slackers? And if you do, is it because a flurry of job applications have got them nowhere?
And yet, I can't deny I hear staff in shops complain young colleagues simply haven't turned up – again. I waited for ten minutes for a coffee while a harassed young mum was on the phone calling frantically to find support for a stressful, public-facing job that simply cannot be done single-handed. Ot at least, not at the customary speed.
Have these missing workers got pressing engagements elsewhere – were they "doing a Scott" as you might say? Or just too lazy to get out of bed on time – with no £2 billion business to cushion them from the storm a "no show" creates?
Or something else?
Scotland has a worse sickie culture than almost any other country – and not just amongst kids. Two years ago an MSP obtained figures on sickness rates across the public and private sectors and found that the average Stirling Council employee was ill 3 weeks per year – one week more than the average NHS worker who in turn was ill a week more than everyone else. And these are grown-ups. Are they all lazy layabouts too?
An Australian study found 60% of mums pull sickies to cope with childcare. The majority felt telling the truth or taking annual leave would be frowned on, and some were honest enough to say they needed the pay. How many working mums can say hand on heart they haven't done the same? And how many dads have let them?
Now I'll grant you childcare issues don't explain the poor communication skills and missing work ethic of Arnold Clark's would-be apprentices. But the source of the attitude problems of some Scottish youngsters may be the same – no engaged play and care in their early years when communication, teamwork, and "citizenship" skills are being learned.
The New Economics Foundation has calculated that every £1 spent on children in the early years (0-3) saves about £9 in the long term. That's what the Scottish government calls preventative spend. But though they've set up some family centres and increased the number of nursery places for 3 years old those first critical years of a baby's life get little support. And the number of health visitors supporting the poorest young mums – perhaps uncared for themselves as children -- is dropping all the time.
By the age of three, 50 per cent of a child's language is in place. By the age of four a child's brain is 90 per cent of its adult size. By then an child engaged by his parents at home or at kindergarten will have the ability to communicate, share, trust, make judgements, become self-reliant and outgoing – an un-engaged child will not.
All the "soft skills" and positive outlook demanded by employers – and by life – are acquired (or not acquired) before most kids reach school. And yet in Scotland we spend about £95 million on this age group against £2 billion on higher education.
So right now another generation of under-engaged kids is being born in Scotland to face a barrage of criticism when many prove the experts right and fail to demonstrate the life skills they never learned as babies and toddlers.
We can change this. But it would mean spending now to save later. And we simply aren't much good at that any more. Especially in a recession when powerful interest groups hog the headlines -- and available cash.
Our children aren't hopeless. But maybe our long term planning is.