Business leaders are usually presented as either the loud and brash Alan Sugars and Donald Trumps or the douce suits that run the chambers of commerce and CBI. In my experience, the vast majority of business leaders – and by that I mean successful businessmen and women who are leaders in their field – are neither brash, loud nor douce.
They work all hours God gives them, roll their sleeves up when there’s a problem, know their business inside out and care deeply about the welfare of their staff. I’m talking about the unsung heroes of manufacturing, like Ivor Tiefenbrun who has built a world-class electronics company that still designs and manufactures in Scotland and eats his pie and chips with his employees in the work’s canteen.
Arnold Clark is also one of those people – they just want to get on with their business, make it work, see it expand and give more pleasure to their customers and more work for their staff. They much prefer the quiet life and, while they understand good publicity is vital to a business, generally shun controversy at all costs.
So putting his name to a submission to the Scottish Parliament that far too many young people are unemployable is out of character and was meant with the best of intentions.
It was said not to attack today’s youth, whose hopes and ambitions are probably as positive as that of any preceding generation, but to point out how we as a nation are failing them and that if we don’t address the problems we will all be the poorer.
What probably took most people by surprise was not that those being turned down are accused of being illiterate or innumerate but that their attitude towards work is the problem, that too many have no idea of what it takes to hold down a job, to put in a day’s work and shoulder the responsibility of working with others.
It is not that they are unqualified to work (although that for far too many remains a problem) but that they are unfit to work.
Too many, we are being told, think the world owes them a living, that work should be designed to suit them and not around the challenges that will make a customer happy. By customers I don’t just mean someone that buys or hires a car, has it serviced or repaired but all the different levels of customer behind the scenes that make any business work, from dealing with other businesses that supply parts, valet and polish, fix the plumbing or handle the accountants. We are all customers of each other in the workplace and the problem is that too few understand this.
A particular criticism is that the school experience has become so relaxed, so undisciplined and so undemanding that many school leavers are amazed at the hours they are asked to put in at work. I was unaware school life had become that slovenly, but it does not surprise me if many of today’s youth are surprised what real life is like. This is not just about school, it is what our risk-averse, health-and-safety nanny state has been inculcating for the last 40 or more years. If there’s anything to be surprised about, it is how long it has taken for the effects of all the do-gooding mollycoddling to harm our children.
I cannot avoid saying it, for it is true, but when I were a lad I thought of nothing of getting up for my milk round at half six in the morning and delivering pints up and down tenement stairs before I went to school at half eight seven days a week. I remember all too well the form I had to sign back in the 70s to get the council’s permission, just in case I might be sent up a chimney. It did not take long before politicians and busy- bodies were introducing restrictions about the hours you could work and the age you had to be to the point that getting such work became near impossible – all in the best interest of the kids, you understand.
We have also had the assault on having anything to do with competition in our schools – with team sports being a particular target. Apparently everyone has to be a winner, there can be no losers – school should be a pain-free zone.
Well life is not like that. It can be tough, dirty, nasty and painful.
School is not just about exams, it’s about preparing for life and until parents, for instance, decide if children can have a paper round and schools are able to have winners and losers – so that the losers can find what it takes to win and the winners can find they can lose too – the queues of the young unemployable will sadly get longer.