Shoe Shine

I was talking with Steve Smith the other night and by an indirect route we arrived at the subject of vocational skills (although we didn’t use that term). We’d both been working that day at Leeds College of Music and were waiting for the Manchester train on Leeds City station. Our talk continued in the carriage, into which three policemen jumped, just as the train was about to set off.

I remarked to Steve that I’d seen that happen once before.  As soon as the train set off (the train in my story) they, the three policemen, began to hand out leaflets. I can’t remember now what the leaflets were about, but probably they referred to fare dodging and the penury outcomes of trying to do such a thing. Our three however, did nothing more than ride the train as far as Huddersfield.

Nevertheless I’d said, whilst relating my story to Steve, it might have been more cost effective to have had a trainee or a young person of some kind do the leaflet distribution, than three full-fat, five star policemen. Steve immediately expanded that thought to ‘shoe shine’ philosophy!

When asked to explain what he meant, he said that when someone sets up a shoe-shine stall, they are more often than not looked down upon and regarded as underachievers. We both wondered why, when all they were doing was trying to earn a living [I found this later – http://www.arnoldwesker.com/synopses/lady_shoeshine.htm]. We drifted then into the fact that nothing below Foundation Degree seems to be valued any more and even that is sometimes looked down upon. Again – why? Surely anyone who is managing to hold down a job in this climate should be applauded. Furthermore and again surely, their skills should be constantly supplemented with anything that can make them do their job better and (I’m drifting into dodgy territory here) make their company more profitable and therefore more likely to employ even more workers.

Whilst I realise that, as the chief benefactor of such a theory would be the employer, he/she should be the one to pay for this extra training, why does the government not think it worthwhile to properly fund and support real vocational learning at any level other than H.E.

I know that much more money has gone into apprenticeships this year (and ‘going forward’) but that isn’t enough – is it? Not all of our plumbers and electricians can be apprentice trained, not all car mechanics and engineers want to work for just one company all of their lives (nor can they expect to), so why can there not be the skills training that used to be available many years ago – when having a ‘trade’ was both respected and respectable?

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