Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260-269)
MR JOHN TOWERS, MR DAVID CRAGG, MR STEPHEN ELLISON AND MR MARK LINTON
THURSDAY 19 SEPTEMBER 2002
260. I am not putting that down but can we move back to my question.
(Mr Linton) One of the things you said is paramount and that is reflected in what went on recently with the games in the World Cup. You had everyone flying the St George's flag without the fear of being shouted at that they were National Front. When you say working class white people are put in a box and are ashamed of their culture, maybe that is what it is sometimes. I went to Handsworth College when I left the Army to get to university. I went to Bournville which was logistically down the road, and they said basically they did not think I was the right type of candidate for them. What that meant I do not know. I ended up in Handsworth College in the fear of the 1980s riots, and all the rest of it, which was populated by West Indians and the Asian population. I was the minority in that particular area. However, I found them openly welcoming. I enjoyed my time there and I made some really good friends and got to university and that was the end result for me. At the time, however, in some of the political debates we had, it was pushed, if not sometimes forced, down my throat how we oppressed and continue in this country to oppress the minorities, the non-indigenous people. Sometimes we go too far on the right or left of what is rationally acceptable. In this city I do not think we have a real issue of racism any more because we are learning to live and grow up together as ordinary human beings.
(Mr Towers) To take that even further, Mark, I am not originally from Birmingham but one of the things I have noticed over the many years that I have been here, most particularly the recent years, is that there is a sense of a Birmingham identity here which I think is unparalleled in major city terms across the ethnic groups. I still do not follow Andrew's question.
Chairman: Nor does the Chairman! Put it in a different way.
Mr Turner: You were there when it was said.
Chairman: I heard what was said, I am not sure what you are trying to get at.
261. The assumption is that if you are ashamed of your culture and if you are ashamed of yourself you are not going to perform and the example that was given is that white boys adopt Jamaican patois as a means of conversingand I am sure it applies to other groups as welland if you are ashamed of yourself you are not going to perform. I am wondering if that is true.
(Mr Ellison) It covers both distinctions. We have talked about young whites and young African Caribbeans. I have had the great honour over the past couple of years of working with an African Caribbean company in Birmingham and my company has trained about 75 Jamaican people who are trainee students here. They are not British, they are from Jamaica and they have been over here relatively recently. They are all paying for their training, none of it is subsidised. The attitude is excellent and totally and completely different from the stereotypical attitude, even amongst the young lads. But what I will say is that I feel, in the two areas you come across, the level of literacy of 50-year-old African-Caribbean people, particularly Jamaican people, is very, very low. Could it not be a fact, rather than me jumping to conclusions, that if you grow up in a household where your mother and father do not read and a household without books, how are you ever going to achieve? Similarly, some people from a working class backgroundand I am from a working class background and I certainly would not tell my son to be ashamed of it, quite the contraryif you have not grown up with that stimulus, it is the stimulus that is missing that is the problem. That cannot be corrected in three or five years; it is going to take at least a generation.
(Mr Towers) Young people have had role models of varying degrees of acceptability over all of my lifetime. When I was 16 or 17 I found the role models that young people had terribly, terribly acceptable. As I have got older, the role models that young people have have become even less acceptable.
262. I would go along with that!
(Mr Towers) It is a thing that happens with young people. The interesting thing that we have today is that there is a multitude of variation of role models available now. If I go a long way back to when I was young we tended to run with the show. Maybe it was a choice between having a rocker as a role model or a mod as a role model. Today it is quite a complex world for young people. Young people love to have role models. If you happen to bump into someone who is taking the African-Caribbean pop jargon on, it is probably only a temporary issue. The fundamental question of self-esteem is not that. The fundamental question of self-esteem is a much, much more complicated factor. I do not think it is related to the same thing, but it is a role model issue. My greatest concern is the process wherebyand we willwe successfully tackle this question of smart to be lazy, smart to be out of it rather than smart to be into it, smart not to listen, smart not to get educated. If you took a general theme, that is the thing that we do have to tackle in those areas where you would expect inclusion in the process. Finally, however, there are much much more difficult areas where I do not think anybody has the answer yet. You were talking earlier about the Bangladeshi community and so on. That is a much more complicated social issue and complicated cultural issue. I do not think we are there yet.
263. I would like to come back to something that Mark touched on earlier in his contribution in terms of the need to improve the direct linkage between local businesses and local schools because it was something that cropped up this morning in the session we had with a group of Y11 girls at Turves Green Girls' School. They had just started year 11 and they had done their work experience at the back end of year 10. I said, "What did you think about work experience?" Their experiences of work experience, if you like. They said they thought it was absolutely fantastic. When I asked was it too long or too short, they said, "In our opinion, it was too short. We were only just getting to enjoy it." I think that is something you need to take away and think about in terms of improving the direct linkage between schools and local businesses. Having said that, looking at the broader issue of trying to bring the local businesses into networking and what have you, I am sure it is the same in Birmingham as it is in my area, we have a devil of a job to get SMEs involved. It is quite obvious what the reason is in some respects. It is because they have only got a few number of people working for them and they need to concentrate on the core business. It is really trying to emphasise to you peopleand I would like your views on thishow can we enthuse SMEs to get involved more in work experience and other issues, where although there is no direct knock-on benefit, if you like, to their business, in broader terms it has massive knock-on implications?
(Mr Towers) The single biggest success we have hadand this cannot be a universal formulais we have piloted an experiment many, many years ago starting in the car industry, in the automotive sector. There were many themes to this but one of the most powerful fundamental themes was the customers of those SMEs demanded and required their suppliers to work in that way and that made the biggest difference of any I can think of. The reason I say it is not a universal solution is because things do not always work that way, but we are trying the same process in other sectors. In addition to that, we are paying them, we are giving them money to do it. In addition to that, resources are being given for them to do it. I feel a little bit sad about this. I have had a lot of experience of the German industry and you do not have to spend a lot of time there to understand that ingrained as a matter of factand probably if you asked them to explain why it is so they would not be able to explain why it is so ingrainedis this sense of skills, qualifications, learning, and it is applicable to any job. It does not matter whether you are a skilled fitter or an engineer with a degree or a barman, you know what the necessary skills are to do that. You can be the best barman in town by having the right skills to be the best barman in town. I do not know what the magic ingredient is to get us there. If we had more of that then I think we would have a better participation rate.
264. Following on from what you just saidand earlier on you were talking about the need for apprenticeships for the older generation and a major profile of the population, to get them back into workwhat about modern apprenticeships? Across the country people are saying they are not really taking off. How many have you got in this area?
(Mr Cragg) About 5,000ish. There is undoubtedly still a major task ahead of us to expand modern apprenticeships. The most important thing we have got to do is to get out of this box of competition at 16 or 17 of whether you go into full time education or you get into a modern apprenticeship. To go back to your observations, Chairman, about higher education, 65 per cent of young people do not go into higher education. Regrettably, we have not developed a sensible and practical culture of people who go and spend a year or two years in further education progressing on to a modern apprenticeship. The job is not done if you have done a full-time course. You need to develop specific work-related skills and to go into a job with further training. One of the biggest breakthroughs we can makeand we see this as a priority for usis to get a much higher progression rate between full-time education and training of all kinds and modern apprenticeships for those who do not go into higher education. With all this collaborative work we are doing across providers, we have now created sector development groups with colleges, especially those in individual vocational specialist areas, working with a whole network of local training providers to facilitate precisely that.
(Mr Towers) We continue to create an impression in most of the things that we do at a high political level that all apprentices are young people. We produce profound reports which seem to centre themselves around the fact that apprenticeships are, by and large, 18 to 21-year-olds and not much older than that.
Chairman: We have a member of this Committee who is slightly obsessed with plumbing and plumbers, probably quite rightly.
Jonathan Shaw: He is probably thinking about it now!
265. He is the Member of Parliament for St Albans and he will not mind me saying this. The fact of the matter is, as he constantly says, in his part of the world a plumber today will earn between £50,000 and £60,000. John talks about role models. We have been round schools today where teachers have said, "If only we could get our young people interested and then employers interested in that leap into useful skills." Here is a city crying out for electricians and plumbers, all those most useful construction trades. There does seem to be this gap, wherever one looks. Whether you use modern apprenticeships or whatever mechanism you use there does not seem to be the right relationship between young people who have skills and the potential to do those job role models who might come in and say, "I do this. I am extremely successful. I have a fulfilling life and I earn very good money . . ."
(Mr Towers) They are all on the golf course. We cannot get them to come in!
266. How do you as the Learning and Skills Councils meet this because it is a real problem?
(Mr Cragg) I am not going to, and I hope I have not done today, give you glib or flip solutions. I think it is about a whole set of planned actions. For example, take construction, what was absolutely clear to us from our construction review (because we developed what we are going to use as a public device which is the idea of a learning skills balance sheet to look at supply and demand) and we did that as a really interesting exercise. That balance sheet showed that the demand side was not being met at all by the supply side. Because of the fragmentation between institutions we had neither the breadth, the scale or the level required by the industry. My anecdote which I gave you before we came in over tea is that there were virtually no local people employed on the Bullring site for construction purposes. We have tackled a very specific issue. We have prioritised growth in that sector. We are creating what is needed because we are missing whole chunks of skills training required for the construction industry. Most of that work in the Bullring requires modern, sophisticated, prefabricated techniques. Nowhere in the whole of the city of Birmingham is training for those techniques. So the whole purpose of creating a new infrastructure, a big open site is so you can replicate the real activity which is going on on the ground. I think you went to Four Dwellings which is doing quite a lot on construction. Then you have got to be looking at all kinds of role modelling work, all kinds of work-related curriculum activities so you have got a whole range of things going on 14 to 16and we very much welcome the changes to the national curriculum thereto allow us to introduce far more vocational options for the very kids who are dropping out. Not that we want just "stupid kids" to be doing vocational things, that is a terrible caricature; we want to open up the opportunities for kids who are turned off by the conventional national curriculum to do those things 14 to 16. It is a multiplicity of interventions and the other key thing, which is right at the heart of your question, is how do you engage employers? Again, we have tried and I think begun to succeed significantly in getting a much better structured engagement of whole groups of employers. We have done that sectorally again.
267. What about work experience for youngsters and the small business? Can the one-man band and plumbers provide placements?
(Mr Linton) I deal a lot with the SME market, it is part of my role, and I am sitting there seeing the ins and outs of what they have to do. You have the MD who is doing everything, running around, making sure the accounts are alright, running the operation of the business. What we are physically asking them is to give up some of their time and take on a school leaver or someone still at school and educate them. What they are forgetting or what they are not seeing in the foresight is these are our future. If we are not looking after these people, you are not going to have the right skill set coming into the employment market. How do we tackle that? How do we market it? The LSC is looking to have to pay these people. I think that is wrong. Yes, as an employer it is effectively fundamental that you get the core values of your job right, but if you are not looking at investing back into the community then you are not being a responsible employer in this city.
(Mr Cragg) We are not paying anyone for work experience, for the avoidance of doubt.
268. John has a lugubrious expression.
(Mr Cragg) He always looks like that!
269. Especially when dealing with Germans!
(Mr Towers) A positive point is that anyone in this city who is part of the process that requires work experience gets it. The availability of work experience is not a problem. The variety and the type of work experience available is the problem. I would love to think that what Mark said could happen but just looking at the practical side of some of these SMEs, it cannot.
(Mr Ellison) Can I give you the practical side as the only SME person here. In my business, depending on how many sessional duties I have, I am employing micros to SMEs regularly. I just could not afford the time. The only person who I would want to help them to get a full overview of what the business is me. I cannot put somebody to sit next to one of my tutors in the classroom and be quiet all day when they are training. I cannot put them on work-based training; that does not happen. It is pointless sitting next to the receptionist because they will get that experience anywhere. If they want to know what it is like to work in my business they are going to have to shadow me, and I just have not got the time. I have got the will and I would love to do it, but if I do it then I reduce my earning capacity and who is going to pay my mortgage?
Chairman: Thank you very much. This has been a very good session for us. We have kept you a long time. Something that really comes overand a lot of us have been involved and I personally have been involved in city and town regeneration for a long timeit does my heart good to see four people so committed to this city in various ways. I do not know how most of you have any time to see your families because you sit on so many different bodies! Thank you very much for your time.