‘Don’t over-educate people,’ says Manpower boss – schools need to prepare kids for ‘flexible hours’

Janet Downs's picture

Manpower boss James Hicks, speaking at a Tory Conference fringe meeting, said, ‘We need to be very careful we don’t over-educate people in apprenticeships', Private Eye reports. Schools needed to prepare pupils for ‘flexible hours’ employment.

Manpower advertises many such jobs, Private Eye found.

Presumably this injunction only applies to sections of the state education sector. I can’t imagine top independent schools or state grammar schools preparing their pupils to become ‘flexible hours’ fodder.

How convenient, then, that Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has approved the first new grammar (ostensibly a ‘satellite’ to an existing grammar nearly ten miles away) in decades. Her decision is likely to encourage other grammars to set up similar annexes including ones that would stray over the borders to non-selective counties thereby destroying the comprehensive nature of education in these areas.

Be warned: an extension of selective education would likely further divide English state-educated school children into two types: the ‘bright’ minority in state grammars and the ‘not-so-bright’ majority being prepared for a future in flexible hours employment.

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Alan Gurbutt's picture
Mon, 19/10/2015 - 09:38

Pleased you cited employment. It is very clear locally which types of jobs children are primed for according to school despite our secondary modern school's efforts to provide a range of courses and career pathways (some young people have left our school to become, artists, teachers and lawyers - and we need to celebrate that).

As a parent, an issue has been young people face discrimination that is very local external to school. I know of some who have been asked by local zero-hours employers which school they attend. It transpired in one particular case that the employer's preference was that they attended the grammar school because they didn't want someone with tattoos from 'that other school'.

Local attitudes, from those who should know better, about grammar schools being best and the performative characterises of young people and their families permeate our community, not just in employment, but almost everywhere.

I think until we are willing to stop compartmentalising children at 11+ there will never be equal opportunities and we will continue to bemoan how unruly those kids are from the rough parts of town. Rejection at 11+ has become a social issue.

Leah K Stewart's picture
Mon, 19/10/2015 - 10:03

When I worked in a small private recruitment company (international positions, multi-discipline, apprentices/graduates/PhD's etc) I noticed two types of people. The majority, who I loved at first and came to pity, and the minority who I hated at first but came to admire by the end. Prior to this recruitment job I'd worked 6 months in a high-end sports centre (2x monthly rates of any other gym nearby) and we got the best sales training. I'd perfected my selling over the 6 months, never missing a target. Then in recruitment I applied the same techniques in the hope I'd be rewarded and recognised the way I wasn't going to be as a small cog in a large sport centre chain. It was great, or so I thought. All I had to do was push a few fear buttons (progress over loyalty, experience over dedication, pay over commitment) and most professionals gave me their CV to do with what I wished, but some didn't. This was frustrating as I had targets and my own back to protect. Over time I saw what the difference was.

Those I couldn't manipulate (that's what it was - I'm not proud, but I'd come to believe this was the only way 'someone like me' could make a living) knew what they wanted and had created their own stable, independent place for themselves. They knew what they did best (and enjoyed), who they would work with (specifically), the routine that brought out the best in them (some 3 days a week home office, others 3 months in each world location - no more, no less) and how they worked i.e. they had their own techniques. They didn't serve me, I served them and they became my favourite candidates. But, for a for-profit company, they're not the ones to base a business on; we needed more people driven by fear willing to play musical chairs by our rules. That's the place I think this Manpower quote is coming from. I don't want people to hear it. I want people to know that there is infinite opportunity to be like those I met who knew who they were, were sought for their work and paid more than the others who'd decided a stable job was better and held themselves there, because of fear.

Every time the economy contracted and redundancies (or 'streamlining') was called, those doing the 'safe job' were the first to go. Some had PhD's and families and they were calling me, a 22 year old, and asking for help and quick, because they needed a new job. They didn't know there were other options, like I didn't know, but there are!

Alan Gurbutt's picture
Mon, 19/10/2015 - 11:35

Glad you escaped the safe jobs 'fear factory'. May I ask with the best intentions whether you think you developed your insight purely on the job or has your education had a major influence?

Leah K Stewart's picture
Mon, 19/10/2015 - 12:17

The only employed people I knew as a student were my teachers, who held back on their moments of genius/joy because - why? - they need their job, they're being measured by people who'll threaten their job if they don't to the things they're being measured on. And my dad, who lost his job in economic wobbles beginning a year into my high school time. He had no where else to go and eventually ended up working in Scotland during the week, seeing us only on the weekends. He's sorted now because I stopped his CV from sounding apologetic and got him connecting with the right people.

So I had no idea 'people like me' didn't have to be subject to other people's permission to earn a living. It's all I'd ever seen. So I embraced my first two jobs with everything I had. I was so lucky to be employed! So lucky I was good at it and might therefore not be laid off when times get hard again. It was purely on the job that I developed this insight. Only when I'd seen enough evidence of people no smarter than me, living on their own terms, calling their own shots, loving it, producing better work and being more in demand than their 'ambitions' peers, did I begin to see this parallel world most are shielded from.

If education had let me explore, I'd have discovered this 10 years earlier, but we're redirected by teachers who are required to teach us what they're told to teach us. Don't get me wrong; teachers are wonderful and they're doing such fine work under near impossible conditions for real education. I speak because I care about teachers. I only want them, and students, to know that we don't need permission to do our work; takes guts and requires a level of thought I never experienced in formal education, but it's doable and, whatever happens, there's a freedom in owning what you do.

Alan Gurbutt's picture
Mon, 19/10/2015 - 13:04

Thanks Leah. I'm heartened by your words, in that you have come to realise possibilities of empowerment that you are not holding back but sharing with others.

It's taken me a lifetime to realise I have the same potential as the next person and I know it's never too late. I wanted my children to have a better education than me, but the 11+ got in the way. They have exceeded my expectations in that they have achieved great things in a secondary modern school, but it has been an awful battle.

On a positive, challenging the system has been an education to want to help those who are less fortunate, who I know have fallen through the gaps doing 'gap-years', been in trouble with the law, or who have mental ill health.

Without bashing schools, it seems our experiences are our greatest assets. I'm in for developing that level of thought that goes beyond testing.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 19/10/2015 - 13:41

My posts on the other parallel thread seem relevant here.


I grew up in Birmingham in the 1950s/60s.

Birmingham, then the 'workshop of the world', was an engineering city where the employer was not in a position of dominant power in relation to employees. My Dad was a apprenticed toolmaker. I have referred to his apprenticeship before on LSN. Brum's blue collar, highly skilled engineering class was vital to the many hundreds of small engineering companies, as well as the motor industry giants.On account of his skills and training my Dad could walk into any of dozens of jobs in small and large engineering companies throughout the city and beyond in the Black Country to the West and Coventry to the East.

So when I became a teacher and eventually a head, I was always very clear that schools were provided out of worker's taxes to provide an education for worker's children, such that those children had the best possible opportunities to exercise choice in their careers and their life plans. This was a reality that my education extended to me into my first university, B.Sc Metallurgy (no fees, no loans, maintenance grant), and my second university, M.Ed (full time, fully paid secondment by Leicestershire County Council, no fees, travel expenses paid).

There's me thinking that the pupils in the schools in which I served, our own children and our grandchildren should be as well supported by the education system that I was happy to contribute to through my own taxes.

Silly me - call me a dinosaur, but I haven't changed my views.

Patrick Hadley's picture
Tue, 20/10/2015 - 08:29

We have forgotten the real purpose of education. James Hicks's words should tell us that the often repeated mantra that "we need a more skilled workforce than before" is nonsense. The myth that the main purpose of schools is to provide young people with the skills they will need in the workforce, has distorted our understanding of what schools are for.

We do not need a more skilled workforce than before because the introduction of technology reduces level of the skill needed by most employees. This has been true since the industrial revolution, with mass production meaning that products which were once made by skilled hands are now made by less skilled people operating machines.

The purpose of schools is to educate the pupils and prepare them not just for work, but for life. We have to recognise that we need a lower skilled, but better educated population, and move away from vocational courses, which in my opinion have not been a success in schools, to courses aimed at increasing pupils appreciation of the arts, humanities, crafts, and sciences for their own sake.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 20/10/2015 - 12:01

Patrick - I suspect James Hicks's 'skills' lean towards those which ensure a compliant workforce grateful for intermittent employment.

Here in the UK we're in danger of losing the manufacturing skills on which our economy depends just as much as the service and financial sector. The final collapse of our steel industry, caused by China flooding the market with cheap steel, means steel making facilities and the skills that go with them will disappear. This morning on 'Today' I heard about the Redcar steel apprentices who can no longer complete their apprenticeships. Their training provider, TTE, was appealing for them to be taken on by other employers but said that many of the apprentices had already drifted away to take casual jobs.

Such a waste of talent. And we already have to seek qualified plumbers etc from abroad.

As I write, the head of the country responsible for the demise of UK steel is being given the full state-welcome treatment as this Gov't recklessly puts our future security and economic welfare into risk in return for Chinese investment. But Osborne waving a piece of paper heralding prosperity in our time doesn't eradicate the concern that the UK would be obligated to a country who might expect future compliance from a UK Gov't in, say, action against democracy advocates in Hong Kong or inroads into Taiwan.

Guest's picture
Tue, 20/10/2015 - 17:49

"caused by China": really?

No mention of the impact of the strength of sterling
No mention of the weakness of the Euro
No mention of other developing countries dumping steel (e.g. Korea)
No mention of the woefully slow and ineffective application of EU regulations on the dumping of products within the zone causing damage and harm to EU member states

Btw Britain hasn't had what one can call a manufacturing base for decades. The trend toward a financial and service base for the British economy started a very, very long time ago. It is therefore a somewhat exaggeration to suggest that "our economy depends" on "manufacturing skills".

Neither is it accurate to say that "we already have to seek qualified plumbers etc from abroad." There is no embargo on British people upskilling themselves to be trades people (plumbing or trowel etc) and I am unaware of British companies/employers advertising overseas for trades people but I am all to well aware of the impact of the EU right for citizens to move freely within the members states and establish themselves in whatever work/trade they are able to. What this indicates is that while other EU citizens have been markedly successful in trades British citizens seem to be less successful but, and this important, this is not a scenario where Britain has been seeking trades people from other countries.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 21/10/2015 - 08:39

Guest - British Steel left weak by Chinese competition (and yes, the strong pound doesn't help).

I wasn't aware we were in the Euro. Has this passed me by? That said, a weak Euro affects prices. And the EU has been late in considering putting barriers up against cheap steel imports but such protectionism, as an analyst for global investment banking firm Jefferies argues, shifts steel imports from one region to another.

Yes, Korea (and some other far Eastern countries) are also dumping cheap steel. But these countries aren't being given the full State welcome as I write. And there aren't proposals to involve these countries in sensitive industries such as nuclear power or high-speed railways.

You're right that much manufacturing in the UK has declined especially since the Thatcher era. But it's unwise for any country to put all their eggs in one basket. We can't afford to lose these skills - it makes us dependent on other countries and that's risky. And encouraging investment from a country whose human rights record is poor and will put us in hock to them for generations is even riskier.

Guest's picture
Wed, 21/10/2015 - 09:46


I am unaware that I said Britain was in the Euro, so please refrain from sarcasm.

The currency issue is a significant part of the situation. Other EU member states are also steel producers and therefore the strength of sterling and weak euro aids them not us, and has nothing to do with the Chinese.

The cost of green tax levies etc imposed on the utility companies also impacts on what heavy industry we have left (e.g. gas and electricity are approx double that of our European competitors let alone non-EU)

The EU mechanisms to protect member states from the activities of other nations dumping cheap products in the EU that cause injury to industry within the EU is risibly slow.

The EU regulations on member states aiding their industries are tight and closely monitored, which serves to hinder the scope of what each state can do to support firms.

So while China is part of the issue - and I never said they weren't - they are not as your comments indicated the sole reason.

Martha Carney's World at One makes for an interesting listen (particularly from 20 min mark):


I also note the absence of a retraction of your statement about Britain seeking qualified plumbers (trades people) from abroad, which is inaccurate and ignores the EU freedom of movement directive.

I note the softening of your line re Britain's manufacturing base upon which you asserted its economy relied, which is also inaccurate.

Michele -Lowe's picture
Wed, 21/10/2015 - 10:15

The argument about equipping kids with the skills they will need for the market place seems increasingly fluid these days. What specifically are these skills? Do they reside in current education benchmarks such as GCSE's, the benchmarks all schools are judged on? A comment I've heard/read more than once is that half the jobs our children will be doing haven't been invented yet. So Leah's moment of clarity about understanding the attributes which will serve you well in the modern economy - carving out your own niche - is especially pertinent.
I do think the old model of work hard, gain qualifications, get a good job is increasingly obsolete - as obsolete as the world of work that philosophy stems from. The world of my parents where 'a job for life' was not just a reasonable assumption, it was the norm. I did all those things (I'm 52) and it worked partially for me. I saw the seismic changes of the 80's as the old 'rust bucket' manufacturing base crumbled. I'm from Newport, South Wales where the effects of mine closures filtered down to ancillary industries. Newport is a docks town and it felt the knock-on effects. The local steel works, Llanwern, a giant in its day has been gradually whittled down to a shadow of its former self. These days, kids look at their circumstances, see a shaky job market, particularly in the service industries, and respond accordingly. Bright kids can aspire to 'escape'. Many kids with fewer prospects develop a cynical cloak and as a leading coffee vendor has commented, don't seem to display any loyalty or enthusiasm for the job. British kids are frequently berated for their poor attitude, but the offer to them is low on all the guarantees a past world once took for granted. And I have been through the experience too many times of a waiter or waitress pretending to be my friend, for the short time I'm in a cafe or restaurant spending money, to have much patience with the trend of corporate friendliness. I really don't enjoy watching them having to do this.
The point seems to be that kids need intellectual skill sets and an ability to think which means they can adapt to the world which constantly changes around them. England's school seem fixated on exams and tests. Wales follows at a distance. But increasingly people are seeing that it's not a model which can serve us long-term.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 21/10/2015 - 10:27

Michele - you probably already know this but the OECD warned in 2011 there was too much emphasis on exam results in England. This had negative effects such as neglecting other important skills and teaching to the test. The Gov't is now consulting on how best to intervene in schools judged 'coasting' solely based on exam results (Ofsted judgements will be ignored if inspectors have judged the schools Good or better).

The book 'The Global Auction' argues for education to be regarded as enhancing the quality of life rather than mere preparation for employment particularly when that promise is becoming tarnished. But still the Gov't spouts the mantra that if pupils and students work hard and aspire they will be rewarded. I don't think the discarded apprentices of Redcar would agree with that analysis at the moment never mind the university graduates who can't get jobs but are saddled with debt.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 21/10/2015 - 11:55

Michele - Are we not rather too ready to accept the notion that regular employment is a thing of the past?

Throughout most of my life, regular employment and often a job for life was the norm. Yet in those days it was less necessary. When a very high proportion of British families lived in council houses losing your job did not mean losing your home. Unemployment benefit paid your rent. Rents were low (the rent for our Birmingham Council flat in the early 1960s was less than £4.00 per week including rates and heating provided by a district heating system). Private renting was rare and where it took place tenants were protected by fair rents legislation and secure tenancy rights. There was a time when private householders were also protected because unemployment benefit also paid the interest on your mortgage.

How can a family provide the necessary security for their children without the security of a decent family home that they can afford to pay for from which they cannot be evicted on the whim of the landlord? Without that protection how can the children benefit from an undisrupted education provided in their local high quality school?

Decent and secure housing depends on decent and secure jobs. Anything else is only acceptable for the rich. It is not acceptable for normal people. The only person I have heard making this argument for a very long time is Jeremy Corbyn in the last few weeks.

High quality social communities, based on neighbourliness, tolerance, generosity and respect for the law and civic institutions also depend on the same things.

If global capitalism cannot provide for the basic needs of parents to bring up and educate their children and for non-parents to be free to do their things, then global capitalism will have to be changed.

We all need to get off our knees. Crappy Free Schools, Academies and copycat LA schools run by opportunist mavericks designed to mould our children for the needs of global capitalism must be rejected.

Michele -Lowe's picture
Wed, 21/10/2015 - 12:13

I did know about the OECD warnings. I see sometimes the dulling effect of teaching to the standard when doing my volunteer reading. I was half-way through a boring book with one of my readers yesterday (yr 3) when I realised it was a phonics story book. The book was reinforcing the -igh sound I noticed and it explained why an eclectic selection of words ending in -igh had been shoe-horned into the story in places where they didn't exactly fit. It also explained why the story was so stilted. My reader, who normally likes to inject a bit of expression into their reading where they can, sounded like a robot. It so sapped my interest - and probably that of the kid - that I can't recall what the narrative was.

Later in their lives, I'm sure kids will be asked to learn in this rote fashion to pass exams. And many will, but my impression is that it is shallow learning and at worst, kills any desire to learn.

Michele -Lowe's picture
Wed, 21/10/2015 - 13:36

Roger, I do remember the world you describe. I grew up in 70's on a council estate in Newport South Wales, which I'd like to emphasise was a great place to grow up, contrary to the repeated demonising of council estates. Pretty much everyone had a job. As I moved through education and into 80's I watched it being dismantled. But I also spent a good proportion of the 80's in France which still retained its public service base. A year of my time was spent in a French lycee being paid to be a language assistant by the French state. Now, one can make many criticisms of the French education system, but all French children are subject to a pretty homogenous education system. You can opt to pay for a religious education, but the curriculum is exactly the same. Good education is free.

From what I can tell as I go back to France approx 3 times a year, the system is the same. So I do know it's entirely possible to hold to your national values in the face of globalisation. But I feel, whenever I hear parents discussing education in the UK that, if they care about education at all, they care about 'getting their kid into a good school'. It's a limited ambition about 'doing the best for my child'. This view point has sunk in and become a received idea. The notion of individualism has become a norm and militates against communal action. You're right, there are signs of a reaction to non-stop neo liberalism applied to areas of life it has no place being in. There is a thirst for decent chances in life and a sense that we're not all merely units of production and good consumers. It just hasn't coalesced yet politically. In the 70's Hayek was political lunacy and economic madness. Now it's orthodoxy. So yes things can change. It's going to take a while, mind.

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