Young, gifted and angry
Let me start by saying one thing: the young are not a different breed. They are not alien beings from another dimension, sent to strike fear and uncertainty into the hearts of the over-thirties.
The events of the last week or so have seen violence and destruction on a scale we never imagined possible on the streets of the UK. We have watched in disbelief as homes and businesses came under attack, as shops were looted and vandalised, and people lost their lives.
Many pundits have spoken out since; various causes have been mooted, including the gradual removal of powers from the Police, educators and parents to punish errant children. Other factors under discussion include social deprivation, poor role models, absent parents, poverty, peer pressure, racial tensions and the aspirational lifestyles promoted by the media making people increasingly materialistic and less compassionate.
Our politicians have attempted to respond in a way that reflects public anger and reinstates them as 'in charge'. Tough prison sentences have been given out to punish those who rioted, looted or were just caught up and happened to be there. In a particularly worrying move reminiscent of the Communist-era approach, there have been threats to close down media and social networks in an attempt to prevent the organisation of further disturbances. There have also been appalling accusations that the riot leaders were almost exclusively young black males. The message is clear: our young people - and by sneaky, sneery suggestion, our young black people - are wicked, destructive, terrible people, and we are doomed.
I'm going to make a bold statement now. I don't buy it.
Rioters did not all carry ID verifying that they were 'youths', no matter what the media told you. Rioters came from all age groups and all walks of life, with the sons of a respected Christian minister and the daughter of millionaires smashing windows alongside the aspiring 'gangsters' from the estates. Rioters and looters were black and white. They were also Asian and European. Mostly, they were British, regardless of background, religion or skin colour. Simply put, this problem is not confined to one social or racial group, but is a universal stain on the lives of Britons - and that's worth keeping in mind if we are to reach some form of understanding about what happened.
The mentor and coach David McQueen (www.davidmcqueen.co.uk) travels to schools around the UK to reach out to and inspire our youth. He works with the most troubled kids and finds amazing talent where educators and parents had dismissed a teenager as no more than a troublemaker. He has spoken with honesty, passion and insight on this topic all week. Has anyone from the Home Office contacted him - or any other youth worker - for feedback and ideas? It seems an obvious place to begin.
Our young people are not evil. We know that, in our hearts. We raised them. What they are right now is angry, frustrated, directionless and betrayed. Successive Governments since the 1980s have stripped this nation of its manufacturing industries and robbed many of the opportunity to learn a skill. And yes, this does include construction. In recent years we've seen a skills shortage in the UK that has necessitated an influx of workers from overseas to meet the demand for skilled tradespeople. Many projects, including the Olympic Stadium in London, would not stand if not for the non-UK workers who worked hard alongside our home-grown talent to make it happen.
From a personal perspective- where's the real investment for our industry so we can at least offer apprenticeships in construction to those with the aptitude and desire to join the field? As an HR manager in this area, I recognise the current economic climate has seen recruitment stutter to a halt, and massive job losses in our industry. However, I also see that we won't always be here and it would cost us dear to assume so. There is a need to look to the future and identify where the plumber who will fix your leaky tap in 2015 is right now, so we can get him or her on the right road with training, development and much-needed focus.
To speak honestly, and perhaps brutally, we also desperately need to attract more women to the industry, as well as talent from ethnic minorities and diverse religious groups so that construction is no longer seen as the preserve of young white males.
With 1,000,000 unemployed young people - and rising- should we not be appraising matters in a more rational and measured way? These people, regardless of age, colour or background, have been left without hope for a decent working life and a home of their own - so can we really feign surprise that they lashed out in this way?
I do not condone the violence, or pretend to have the sole ability or a magic wand to fix this awful situation we find ourselves in; but I do believe there is a need to stop the knee-jerking and finger-pointing, the casual racism, sexism and social sneering, and try to begin to understand the root causes of what's gone wrong. Dealing with the outcome, without addressing the source, can only bring us to further grief.