Friday, 24 January 2014

The value of creative industries and creativity in industry (or, wind your neck in Esther McVey)

Sweet potato makes this a vegetable serving...
This week Employment Minister Esther McVey dropped the metaphorical coffee cup with her suggestion that young people need to take entry level jobs in 'Costa' before aiming for higher paid (and the suggestion was therefore 'better') jobs in management. In terms of getting the skills required to function as a productive member of our economy (punctuality, customer service, efficiency) she isn't wrong. But that's where it ends.

You see, the inference was that jobs in coffee shops are 'entry level'...'basic'...'low skilled'. And I don't think that this is the case. After picking up my friday morning treat (kids in school, crochet awaits) from my local coffee shop (The Linton Kitchen, go there, it's ace and they are happy to be complicit in deceiving your husband about how often you visit) I got talking with the lovely lady serving me. We talked about the 'McVey slur' on coffee shop workers and I can understand why she was so livid.

Firstly, it does the millions of people in the service industries a massive disservice to suggest that their job or chosen profession (yes, people choose to do this) is somehow low-skilled and not a long-term prospect. It infers that the skills required to be a successful small business, or even a thriving franchise of an international chain are somehow less valuable and easier to pick up than other 'proper' professions. It's also does nothing to value the creativity and understanding of community that service jobs in general require in order to be effective.

And this is my real point. I walk into my local coffee shop and there is an atmosphere that has been created by a team. People who understand how to work together in a small space, within a community to not only provide coffee, but intelligent conversation, excellent products that are tailored to a specific market, and with the flexibility to allow the use of that space for meetings, emotional chats, humour, post-school run 'make it better' cake and on a Friday morning, sanctuary.

This takes more than entry level skills. More than just punctuality. It takes creative intelligence to succeed, and increasingly it seems, we value this less and less. The 'Arts' get hacked out of the school curriculum. Students become assessed on their ability to complete an exam, the ultimate administrative task that praises conformity to a set standard and allows little deviation for lateral creative thought (I know, I've been an examiner!). We push our children harder and ever younger to make decisions about their career path rather than allow them experiences that might tap into unexplored talents that they are told won't make them money. We don't even teach children that when they are adults, there will be hours in their week where they aren't at work, and they have choices about how to use that time in a more fulfilling way than just think about...work.

So yes Minister, there is a need for the next generation to be able to be punctual, to get up in time, to be able to perform tasks with accuracy and diligence. But I hope that my kids will be getting up earlier than the alarm to go a job that makes that happy, that makes use of their left side of the brain and that treats all people, regardless of pay-grade and job title with respect.

Join the conversation -let me know what you think! Better still, visit your local coffee shop (you can post a link here and share their awesomeness) and have a chat with the folks that work there. And say 'thank you'. xx