I read this week that the minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd was getting some heat for daring to mention that young people today perhaps lack the "grit" of yesteryear, necessary to find jobs and succeed in life. He was referring to the Neets, a subject close to my heart, those young people Not in Education Employment or Training. So is he right? Does a contributing factor to our 1.1million Neets (highest its been for years) actually come down to weakness and kids not being tough enough to stick it out and put the time in giving it their all?
Easy for Nick, a fourth generation privileged Tory MP, to say. All I hear from experts claiming to know what its like to be a kid these days is the adage "wasn't like it in my day" forever on the tip of their lizard-like tongues.
See for me this comes down to safety nets. When people fail in life there is a Grand Canyon-sized difference to failing knowing that your rich and powerful family will catch you if you fall, and propagate you into another vocation and those who have nothing, no safety net, no mentors cheering them on, no family members who aspire to anything special, no moral support, just a financial handout funded by the state if you happen to go on the welfare. So that if you fail you fail miserably, and naturally lean towards the easy money of depressing failure.
I was thrown out of school at 14 and I joined the army at 16 on an apprenticeship scheme straight out of a boys hostel where I had spent a few months after being kicked out of the kid's home I lived in run by Social Services. The Army was the final opportunity for me to make something of myself. My alternative was alcoholism and solvent abuse on the streets of the North West. I had no one to fall back on and had no work ethic to speak of. I was lost in an uncertain world so I took the one chance I had and ran with it. I am one of the lucky ones and for many others there it is not so simple. For many the risk of failing is too much and the opportunity of going on welfare and becoming a burden to the state more compelling, with their families, it seems, almost encouraging it. I get this. I can see why it's the choice many take, but it is not acceptable. It is a cancer that is growing within our island that needs both surgical and chemical intervention. If left to spread it will destroy our place in the world as a country borne from hard work, loyalty, right thinking and stoic resolve.
But we won't fix it by allowing privileged know-it-alls to make derisory comments about our young people. All this does is rile the electorate. The same young people that at 18 are dying on foreign shores in the service of this great nation, the same teenagers willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice. My guess is that kids today have grit in spades, but no one has shown them the extent of their moral and physical courage, no one has inspired it in them. Now don't get me wrong, Nick Hurd is a good guy. He is a hardworking politician by all accounts and deeply passionate about fixing this enormous issue. The fact is that he doesn't have any money in his budget and this poses an extremely miserable problem.
So how do we fix it? What is the solution? I am all for putting ideas into the pot and not just sitting there talking a good war from the armchair. The solution lies in changing the mindset of the next generation and accepting that all is lost with the one currently sat on its fat backside at home on the welfare. However we must not accept that the next wave of 15 years olds (600,000 of them in 2014) are intended to fail. We must motivate, inspire, and lead this next wave of amazing 15 year olds in a charge like we have not seen before, opening up thousands of vocational, real opportunities to learn apprenticeships and skills in technology, science, industry and construction, and funding more aggressively the National Citizen Service, a program of adventurous training and community services for all 15 years olds at school. #nationalcitizenservice . We must push and promote uniformed activity providers like Cadets, Scouts and Guides, and fund special Service Officers in Schools to act as positive mentors and role models to disaffected young people, providing support and mentoring in career guidance, work ethic, what it means to serve your community and country, and to be a shoulder of support when times are hard and when their families are not backing them as they should. This will break this vicious cancerous cycle. Teachers cannot do this, they are too busy teaching, a new role clearly defined, must be introduced in secondary schools to attend to this cancer. This will engender a different attitude amongst the young people affected by this disease. Not by teaching insidiously boring lessons in Latin as many would advocate, but by real streetwise focused life skills, confidence, character development and leadership skills taught by men and women trained as Service Officers who grew up in the same communities, spent time in the military seeing the wider world and then became exceptional ambassadors back home, promoting the right feel good values of service to community and country. If this is done well by the military in their apprenticeship colleges then why can this not be de-militarized and employed in our local schools by highly trained and motivated Service Officers? We need a moral intervention into our society and if parents in certain circumstances are not doing it for their children, a suite of actions needs to be employed to counter this. This worked for me and it will work for the 1.1 million currently sat doing nothing. What is the alternative? No one seems to have a clue.
Let's show the next wave of 15 year olds coming of age the way into adulthood and defeat this cancer of civil society.
Kevin Godlington is Team Leader for a new show about ex soldiers intervening in failing community projects, Construction Squad:Operation Homefront airs Friday night 8pm on Channel 5. For your own community project log onto www.operationhomefront.co.uk