Over the past couple of weeks there’s been a crop of stories in the media in which employers bleat about the “shortage” of trained scientists and the “shortage” of literate and numerate employees. As with most of these perennial news items—I’m sure most outlets now have ready-made Word templates so their journalists can bang them out over and over again with the minimum effort—I’ve dealt with this one before.
But, just for the sake of the surplus of economically illiterate managers and directors in Britain, here’s an explanation in terms they might grasp. If I go to my Porsche dealership and offer a salesman 500 of my securely-printed pounds sterling in return for a shiny red car then he will laugh at me heartily and move on to deal with another customer. This is not because there is a “shortage” of new Porsche Caymans. This is because I am not offering to pay enough money for one; I am offering enough money for a decade-old Citroen AX.
I read the BBC articles (couldn’t open your own article that you pointed to) but I don’t think they were bemoaning the lack of cheap science talent in England – they were bemoaning the lack of any science talent in England.
Without harking back too much to those halcyon days when everyone was hardworking and any child on the street could take square roots in his head, it must be possible to extract some sort of useful information form literacy and numeracy statistics. If literacy and numeracy amongst high-school leavers has gone down, it is a cause for concern (sorry, I have no solutions – my folks believed in scaring me with unemployment and poverty and I guess it might not work for everyone).
Once there are kids coming out of school who know how to read, write and do arithmetic we can talk about how badly they get paid. Or do you seriously think that school kids will only do homework if they think that there is a high-paying job waiting for them as a reward?
School kids, or at least the privately-educated ones, do plenty of homework. I think Damian’s point is that when you can earn three times a scientist’s salary as a plumber (which is at least a useful trade) or ten time a scientist’s salary as a lawyer (which is not), then that is where the smart people will go.
It’s kind of hard to argue.
A subsidiary point is that we cannot afford to limit our talent pool to the 5% or whatever who can afford to pay twice, so at some point we HAVE to dump the equality tosh and seriously reform state education – preferably by abolishing it.
But that isn’t a matter of money either: in fact it would be cheaper than what we have now. It’s a matter of political will.
Actually, you wouldn’t need anything like that for a decade-old AX. £200 would probably do it. But you’re not really interested..
An ex of mine worked for Glaxo Wellcome (as was) researching into the causes of manic-depression. She was pretty and certainly much smarter than her boyfriend who, for selling tins of dog food, earned 30k a year more than she did. She was not helped by her boss who used to take her insights and pass them off as his own, mind you. He always got the heftiest pay rise.
Well put. The pay for engineers and scientists has always been pretty poor. As a contractor in the engineering sector I get about 60% of what I could get for similar work in the financial sector. Pity I like engineering.
At least we’re churning out the world’s best feng shui consultants and celebrity astrologists. Now *that’s* 21st century, uh, science…