Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Which professions do young people still respect - if any?

A friend raised a really interesting point yesterday. In the old days, young people intent on entering the legal profession invariably saw themselves as  hot-shot barristers defending innocent clients against serious criminal charges at the Old Bailey, looking nifty in those cool wigs and robes and saying thing like, “I put it to you, Sir, that you’re evidence is naught but a tissue of lies!”

Now, apparently, those who go through the pain of studying stupendously tedious legal text-books (I looked at one once, and it was like being coshed) do so because they want to earn an absolute packet in corporate law.

I’m sure he’s right.

And if they do really well, they can look forward to careers as judges, protecting philandering multi-millionaires from the press and ensuring that dangerous foreigners are set free to perpetrate crimes against law-abiding Britons.

This got me wondering how our vision of various professions has changed over the years. For instance, do football-mad kids who used to dream of scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup Final for their local club, whose stadium casts a benign shadow over the cobbled streets where they play with their mates (jumpers for goal-posts etc.) now dream of a life of untold riches, Ferraris, prostitutes, marketing contracts and rapacious agents, playing with a polyglot mix of fellow mercenaries in a foreign country whose language they’re too thick or lazy to learn?

The desire to be a policeman was no doubt animated by visions of  George Dixon or Fancy Smith or, if you were tubby, Inspector Barlow. If you were of a particularly aggressive bent, you might fancy being Harry Callaghan or Jack Regan.  But what you really wanted to do was enjoy the admiration of the local community by catching criminals and making the world safe for decent folk (basically, your mum). You wouldn’t make much money, but that wasn’t the point. I have consulted a cross-section of British teenage opinion, and being a plod is now seen as a fairly well-paid, secure profession which people enter for those reasons. You can end up with early retirement on a fat pension, a peerage, a massive pay-off when you get turfed out for being useless – and all by spending your career protecting gays and Muslims from nasty people intent on hurting their feelings. Meanwhile the right-wing press (and people like me) will pour scorn on your utter wetness. (My teenage informants also point out that there’s never a policeman around when he and his friends are being menaced by less privileged youngsters, but are always on hand to give them a hard time for, say, being in possession of a can of lager. Some things evidently never change.) 

People used to want to be priests because they believed in God and to spread the faith. Now, I assume you become a priest because you’re a left-winger who believes that redistributing wealth will make us all spiritually better off, or because they couldn’t pass the exams to become a social worker.

And do kids who want to enter Parliament dream of ending up as rich as the Blairs? Or because they have a burning desire to board the EU Express and receive oodles of wonga while helping to destroy democracy by building a fascistic European super-state?

And do they want to become train drivers so they can annoy passengers by always being late and regularly going on strike? (Apparently, the younger generation loathe train and tube drivers.)

Becoming a nurse used to mean lousy wages and an automatic reputation for saintly self-sacrifice. Now it means having stupid pseudo-degrees, a decent salary, and patients dying of dehydration, malnutrition, or hospital superbugs because compassion isn’t part of the job description. (To think there was once a soap opera about nurses entitled Angels!

Being a GP meant working bloody hard, being quite comfortably off, and having the respect of all your patients and the wider community. Now they only work hard if they want to earn more than £250,000 a year, they won’t get off their arses to visit sick people in their homes, and they draft in a bunch of twelve-year old girls to deal with NHS types such as myself so they can get on with the important business of extracting handsome fees from private patients. (Despite this, I have to report, youngsters still respect doctors - this surprised me.)

Science is one profession which appears to have risen in the younger generation’s estimation - but, given that I’m only talking to privately educated middle class kids, that may be because science has gone the way of competitive sports and foreign languages in state schools, and is therefore less open to the deranged leveling policies currently destroying the more “accessible” sectors of higher education. Who knows?

There were many honourable professions open to my generation: few of them were about making money, and most of them guaranteed automatic respect from the people you knew and society as a whole. But, given that respect for many professions has evaporated in the past twenty years to be replaced by a certain grudging admiration for how much dosh they make or how little work they can get away with, what associations do words like “footballer”, “lawyer”, “banker”, “politician”, “TV producer”, “train driver”, “nurse” and “policeman” arouse in the minds of young people? 

Finally, I’m told that most kids - no matter what their educational background, don’t much care what career they follow, as long as they’re rich and famous. 

How very, very depressing.


  1. And now we can’t even say we wish there were more like Ryan Giggs. Maybe they could remake “Angels” and call it “Lazy Slappers With A Degree”. Scientists…isn’t that just the CSI effect? Internet mogul or Britain Hasn't Got Any Talent winner seems to be what most youngsters aspire to.
    Tuesday, May 24, 2011 - 05:55 PM

  2. Personally, I wish they were more like Chris Huhne. Now, that's what I call a role model!
    Sunday, May 29, 2011 - 07:43 PM