Has technology put an end to summer jobs?

Sandra Chapman
Sandra Chapman

This week’s weather has brought us back down to earth again.

The idea that maybe this corner of the universe was hotting up climatically leading us all to feel a lot better about life was dashed last Saturday when the heavens opened rendering the road outside my house like a river. I stood looking at it through a window. What would happen if it decided to invade my garden and then the house?

Is technology taking over our children's lives?

Is technology taking over our children's lives?

Fortunately it stayed where it was eventually reducing to a trickle. Life is like that I suppose. One minute we are mad about something – mostly politics – then the crisis subsides and we get back to normal.

Ian Paisley’s drama, Mary Lou McDonald’s U-turn on a border poll, Peter Robinson’s ‘dangerous words on unity’ and Theresa May’s inability to get the Brexit voters want had us hopping mad.

Yet it’s the nice ordinary, everyday things that get one back to normal. This week I noticed the black spots on the leaves of a sycamore tree – a sure sign that autumn is on the way and my delight to hear my four-year-old great niece singing the alphabet. That’s how we learned it at school and that’s how I taught it to my own children.

Yet we learned this week that in many English schools – and maybe here too for all we know – children are starting school without a proper grasp of language in that they cannot string a sentence together, some not even having heard of the alphabet.

Now that does depress me, as does a report from the Department of Culture informing us that one in four children under the age of two, and more than a third of three to five-year-olds have their own tablet. Very young children now are looking at a screen. Children, it seems, have also shifted from shared to personal devices. Baby equipment manufacturers must be making a fortune from sales of iPad holders to fit on to high chairs, car seats and prams. So while mums push their strollers using their mobile phones the toddler has its own little screen for amusement.

I read recently that teachers were alarmed that children were coming to school without even recognising single letters, and unable to pronounce simple words. Society is surely neglecting its young in all kinds of ways. To not even help a child develop communication skills is depressing beyond belief.

Teenagers were also in the news with Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey warning of a ‘drastic’ decline in the number of teenagers taking holiday jobs. Since 1997, says the Minister, the number of young people taking summer jobs has halved, leaving them missing out, on ``essential skills’’ that make them more employable. My generation were the pioneers of the summer job. In fact there was little option but to work then if you wanted money for clothes, make-up and nights out. My summer employment was in a local clothes shop. The more daring jobs were in hotels and cafes in places like Portrush, handy for the Arcadia Ballroom and night parties on the beach.

Ms McVey says that summer jobs and Saturday work should ``complement, not compete with, education’’. I learned a lot from my summer job. It taught me that I needed to improve my education if I was to have any chance of getting into the profession of my choice.

Summer jobs were plentiful right into the 1980s but are harder to find now as technological advances have changed the working environment beyond recognition. So instead of working, young people today seem to fill the hours talking or playing games on their mobiles. With both parents out at work they have to fill their time in an empty home.

The government, unwittingly perhaps, has helped create this barren environment for young people.

Ms McVey says ministers must ``make the case’’ for summer and Saturday jobs as they are ``connected to having a successful future’’. My generation would agree with that but it’s going to take a lot of backtracking from the government to make it happen. Employers are hamstrung with endless rules and regulations in relation to employees. It’s no wonder they shy away from employing the inexperienced.