Why would you bother working then?
In the past hour I’ve met with two 18 year old young men, one with whom I worked in school some years ago, one with whom I have worked in the community.
One of them told me of his current struggles to find work. Within the last 4 years since I first met him, he has been involved in various criminal activities, and has already been to jail twice. He now tells me that he’s calming down, has a good girlfriend with whom he wants to settle down, and just wants to be able to work properly to be able to support her and the family he aspires to having. He knows how much money he has been able to make in the past through less legitimate means, but admirably want to get it right now, but cant get any work.
The second currently has a job, and is proud of the fact that he’s working hard, despite relaying his frustrations that he seems to be the person working the hardest but for the least reward. HIs standpoint was already, at the tender age of 18 fraught with disappointment and lack of confidence in the systems in place to help him and others like him get it right. ‘I mean’ he went on ‘they expect us to not do dodgy stuff, but whats the point when we work our arses off and get nothing for it?’. It’s a fair question. I asked him about the possibility of moving up in the organisation, and was told that they had promised him a move into a different department, with a better wage, but on the promised morning moved him back down again to the same thing he’d been promised a move away from.
He went on to tell me that even i the last week he’d been offered ‘work’ with a friend, where he’d get paid three times a week more than in his legitimate job just to sit in the passenger seat, ready to run at a moments notice should the car look like it would get pulled over by the police. I admire his choice to turn down the offer, but I did have to put myself in his shoes and question why we let young people get to a position where positive and attractive legitimate opportunities are so hard to come by.
Sure the risks are much higher, but to a brain which we see sciencetific evidence suggesting may still be unable to appropriately process risk and consequence (there’s a school of thought that due to the brains restructuring during adolescence and frontal cortex being one of the latest bits to develop - which also just happens to govern impulse and judgement), is it any wonder that when the rewards are seemingly so high, and the perceived risks relatively low, young men and women find themselves attracted to criminal activity as an ‘easy’ option?
He went on to tell me about how much money a Cannabis grow can recoup, suggesting that around £1500 of investment can relatively quickly be turned into about £30000 of plants. With a profit margin that any legitimate business would be over the moon to return, it does bring me back to my original thinking - what are the prospects for young men and women, and why can’t we put a more attractive offer on the table?
Having worked with young poeple for about 10 years now and steadily seen the draw of paid ‘work’ distract more and more younger and younger people from schools, youth work and legitimate employment, it breaks my heart each time we see another young person fall into the trap, after all, why would you come to school when someone tells you that they’ll give you £50 to come out and work with them that day instead?
This runs deeper than a lack of aspiration, its about a lack of HOPE. Many of the young people at greatest risk of disengaging from society seem to have no trust that there’s any real chance of them makng a go of it, getting work that actually pays a decent living wage, and therefore fall into the trap of making their status quo enough for them. We talk too often about raising young poeple’s aspirations, when we should be increasing opportunity for fruitful, rewarding and accessible ways for people to make their place in society, as well as dispelling the belief that a life of benefits and jeremy Kyle is enough, or that the rewards of crime outweigh the risks so heavily.
It breaks my heart each time a young person I’ve spent time with makes an informed risk vs reward decision and chooses something illegal, but I can’t say I don’t understand whay some take those decisions.
I don’t have all the answers, I’m not an economist, or a politician, but I do get people, and I do thinkk that for many of us when we see no potential in what we should do, we turn to that we shouldn’t. Add to that the fact that so many young people seem to have no significant adult (familial or otherwise) to whom they have any level of emotional acountability, and its no wonder that the draw of ‘easy’ money skews their moral compasses. I’m a professional youth worker, and I truly believe in the power of positive significant relationships to help hold young poeple morally accountable for their actions, but I wish there were no need for my line of work. Around Bradford there’s loads of banners outside schools saying ‘It takes a community to raise a child’ and I couldn’t agree more, but how do we foster those significant (and intergenerational) relationships which help build up and provide opportunities for everyone to make their own positive impact on the society they’re a part of, rather than just those who do well in formal education or have a particularly entrepreneurial spirit?
I never served a formal apprenticeship, but it seems that the model of a master tradesman under whom you learnt both a trade and how to manage the move from adolescant to adult has to be part of the answer for a lot of young people. Why can’t we make more of these opportunities for good professional and lifelong learning to enable young people to make their place in society? It’s not the whole answer, and I’m sure it’s not for everyone, but hasn’t there got to be a better way to offer people attractive and achievable prospects than sitting in the passenger seat ready to run at any moment?