This is what happens when a craft becomes a profession

The professional classes then colonise that former craft:

 But then who am I to criticise Stephenson when journalism is as much of a rich kids’ game? Lindsey Macmillan of the Institute of Education found that journalists used to come from families 6% better off than average, whereas now they come from homes that are 42% richer. Indeed, British journalists, the supposed tribunes of the people, now hail from wealthier backgrounds than, er, bankers, an awkward fact that ought to cause embarrassment all round. I look at my younger self today and wonder if he could become a journalist on a serious newspaper. My parents were teachers. They were comfortably off by the standards of 1980s Manchester, but they could never have afforded to rent me rooms in London and cover my expenses while I went from internship to internship. They had to look after my sisters as much as anything else.

When the standard method of entry was a lowly paid couple of years on a local or regional to be followed, maybe, by a climb up to the nationals then that “right background” didn’t make a difference. When acting meant living on sixpence (rather than the nothing of interning or “parts to gain exposure” ) for a couple of years and doing Rep then again, that sorting system of separating the sheep from the hams didn’t favour background.

Once these, and other such crafts, become professions then it’s obvious enough that those from the professional classes will try to colonise those former crafts.

Quite what we do about it is another matter. No one wants either Rep or local newspapers any more and there’s no point in running them just as socially equitable training grounds.

We could say much the same about being a solicitor or an accountant. Many a working class boy has made good by doing their articles while working in the past. Now it’s graduate only entry (in effect, if not in possibility) and once again the selection process favours background.

47 comments on “This is what happens when a craft becomes a profession

  1. Much truth in this. Drama school is very expensive and with a relatively low chance of success – I’m surprised anybody of limited means thinks it’s worth going at all. Same, as far as I understand the relevant employment rate, for graduate journalism diplomas. Perhaps we should simply regard such schools as ways of fleecing the rich.

  2. In recruitment terms a 2:1 is equivalent modern-day currency to what was once the basic 5 x O level GCE entry level requirement (teacher training college, banking and civil service). Masters degrees are the A levels of the 21st Century. Employers keep raising the bar and sufficient numbers of applicants are willing to oblige. I began working life with zilch qualifications as an apprentice in a factory. The kid alongside me is still there – he now recruits and trains the apprentices. To be accepted as an apprentice you now need a BSc in Engineering, thanks in part to the machines that replaced our old lathes. My young brother began working life as a clerk. Our nephew who has now replaced him required a degree in mathematics and a Masters in computer science. It’s a tough old world.

  3. As for solutions… “No one wants either Rep or local newspapers any more and there’s no point in running them just as socially equitable training grounds.” You could plausibly subsidise them for cultural rather than economic reasons. Obviously theatre is heavily subsidised elsewhere in Europe – is the local press, anywhere? Not that I’m recommending it as a policy, but would be interesting to know what proportion of French actors / performing artists (and they have a lot of them) come from high income backgrounds.

    Three alternative solutions. Level the playing field earlier by reducing inequality among the parents in the first place. Not likely to get voted in when the middle class banker-bashers work out that, in relative terms, they’re rich too and need levelling down.

    Or, the issue of the poor being able to survive the low or uncertain wage stage can be ameloriated by banning unpaid internships etc. Even the middle classes can get behind that one. Problem is that low pay is only part of the problem, a bigger components risk. Even heading to the Big Smoke is a risk because cost of living goes up. Being paid during working periods is good but when you’re starting out there can be big and moreover uncertain, unplannable gaps between internships/contracts/roles.

    Something that explicitly encourages people to take risks in order to invest in skills and potentially greater payoff later would be a form of Universal Basic Income. That might be a great leveller in the “profession colonisation” stakes… but even that can’t solve issues of prior education inequality or social connectedness which tend to favour (upper) middle classes.

  4. In the absence of a better idea, would subsidise local papers – imperfect as they are they are the only people covering local councils, courts etc.

  5. We have universal basic income. You can have benefits or you can have wages and/or you can have pension.
    There’s guys on the streets in my local town who get a basic income. No roof over their head but they get some money.
    .
    If you want more money you work for it or do something for it (one of my schoolfriends robbed a bank for it at the age of 19).

  6. You could mount an attack on credentialism; it’s preposterous to demand a degree for accountancy, for heaven’s sake. Book-keeping and tax-dodging – who the devil needs a degree for that? A certificate from a fortnight’s Excel instruction would make more sense.

  7. @Martin Davies – we have a benefits system, yes, but we most certainly do not have a UBI in the sense advocated by Milton Friedman et alii. A student at drama or journalism school can’t claim the dole.

  8. @dearieme – credentialism is arguably a very middle/professional class tool, lets them dress up educational advantages for their kids as a supposedly class-blind “meritocracy”.

    I’m surprised there hasn’t been more of a left wing reaction against it, instead of an escalation of the credentialist arms race. Until Masters degrees and postgraduate professional diplomas come in for the same funding arrangements as undergraduate degrees, it’s a race that the well-heeled are primed to win.

  9. I got in to journalism when it was a trade and local newspapers would take a chance on a teenager with 5 O levels (me in 1980). Now, you need a postgrad certificate and typical entrants are older but not much wiser.

    Subsidising the local press is a non runner – people just don’t want the papers. The patterns of family and work life on which those readerships of way back when existed just aren’t there any more. Not true everywhere, but mostly true.

    The national written media is doing a slightly different thing and can still prosper but has on the whole become very picky about who it will take. In fact, the company I work for is trying to get away from all that with engagement programmes in schools, which is welcome. Having helped to train new journos, I’d always rather have someone young, keen and malleable and there is no virtue in coming in with a degree. I’ve seen loads who can’t spell. A previous commented is quite to say that unpaid internships should stop.

  10. I think it’s important to distinguish between where people have certain jobs because of privilege and nepotism, and where people do jobs because it’s an indulgence.

    Jobs that are an indulgence tend to have a lot more rich kids in them because they’ve got a lot more money behind them to keep trying to do it, family wealth to support them. They can afford the indulgence.

    How much money is there in commentary? Polly’s on what, £130K? Monbiot makes about £75K. Good money, but they’re the Rooneys and Beckhams at the Guardian. The ones that made it. And a lot either don’t, or are struggling (one of the women from Vagenda was complaining that she couldn’t afford her rent). If you worked out the average earning from a journalist with a degree in journalism it’d probably be less than driving a minicab.

    And at current rate of decline, the Guardian has maybe a decade to go. If you were a gas fitter wanting your daughter to do well for herself, you probably would try and steer her away from journalism and into HR, marketing, engineering or software.

    You need to deal with the national theatres and the BBC that are stuffed full of nepotism and the easy way to do that is removing subsidy and privatisation. But if rich kids are perfecting their craft to deliver things that we want, then I say that we let them carry on doing so.

  11. I’m surprised there hasn’t been more of a left wing reaction against it, instead of an escalation of the credentialist arms race.

    I’m not. The modern left wing is nothing about the working class, and everything to do with the middle classes getting paid for doing jobs which shouldn’t exist, and getting power and privilege way beyond the actual value they add. These dimwits were never going to survive on a level playing field up against the skilled working classes.

  12. Come on, there’s more local press than ever before! Everywhere has free papers. Metro in several cities, abandoned copies on every tube seat in the morning. MEN up north is free most days of the week, and millions of unwanted free copies of City AM litter London city airport prior to the evening banker shuttle back home. You can’t move for them.

    Whether they actually cover local stuff or just pad the adverts with agency copy, I’ve no idea.

  13. MBE

    “I’m surprised there hasn’t been more of a left wing reaction against it”

    The middle classes (the ‘Polyocracy’) started to take control of the Labour Party in the 1970s and dominated it and the left wing media before Blair. Credentialism is entirely in their interests.

  14. One reason for low salaries in journalism must be the sheer mass of young people who insist on persuing it on leaving school/university. There are so many you can’t even work for nothing at your local rag.

    The middle class snobbery against trades has brought us to the point where moderately bright children from working class backgrounds want to write about lost cats, without pay, for the local paper rather than become an electrician and earn lots of money. Bizarre.

  15. Monbiot’s on about £45k at The G. And that’s for a star columnist there as you point out. Boris is on £250k at the Telegraph. Liz Jones makes £1,750 (according to well informed rumour) per Mail column. And that’s the very tippy toppy of the profession/trade. It’s a bit weird that I make twice what Monbiot does as a freelance but there we go (I also write a lot more too). But then it’s a lot, lot, easier to make a living over in the trade press than it is on the newspapers. Precisely because it’s less glamorous and fewer people struggle to get into it.

  16. Tim’s numbers fit with what I know of it. Most journalists, even on national broadsheets, are not higher-rate tax payers. La Toynbee ripping off the Guardian for six figures is a rare exception.

    When I started as a journalist 15ish years ago, I was offered more than one ‘job’ where the pay didn’t cover the unreimbursed expenses of travelling to cover stories and so-on.

    While blogging remains significantly more lucrative than journalism, I’d have to say that The Stig is right about ‘indulgences’ rather than jobs.

  17. I’m surprised there hasn’t been more of a left wing reaction against it, instead of an escalation of the credentialist arms race.

    They believe they can use credentialism to keep the “wrong” people out.

  18. It’s a mandarinate in formation basically; part of it is down to (deliberate?) strangulation of the economy such that all work is in short supply, while immigration flooding raises the relative value of “professional” jobs above the catfight in the “labour” market, so you end up with this monstrosity of internships.

    But another factor is that the Universities themselves are basically instructing their students to discriminate in the workplace once they leave, and only employ graduates like themselves. It’s kind of indirect, but based on giving each graduate a general feeling that graduates are special people and non-graduates are an untermensch. I never know whether to laugh or cry when I see something like a Graduate Programme at Farmfoods; the idea that one needs a degree to be a shop manager flogging frozen donkey burgers is beyond farcical.

    This is the kind of situation which in most societies eventually leads to some sort of revolution.

  19. I fail to see why the dismal career prospects of ancillary workers in the classified ads business is a problem in need of a solution. And what’s all this talk of ‘banning’ unpaid internships? Have we been hacked by Murphyites? The employment arrangements of private businesses is none of our damn concern. Nobody’s press-ganging* anyone. I couldn’t care less if they were to select junior journos via trial by combat, as long as it were voluntary.

    * ‘press’ ganging! I slay myself.

  20. Shut all humanities courses down, sack all the non-science “teachers” without compensation and confiscate their pensions.
    Then end this obsession with Unis. No more of Bliars 50% nonsense. No more loans. The old way of grants from tax thieving for the10% that could do some good with extra education was better than that (if tax thieving were to be stopped obv some other method would be needed. Since that doesn’t seem likely anytime soon….). Puncture the entire degree qualifications balloon.

  21. @ Martin Davies

    Really? Where do all my student friends need to go to pick up the cheque to cover all the rent, clothes, food and books they’ve been paying for with their loans and part-time jobs?

    Actually, how long has this been going on? I seem to remember forking out for all that myself too, so I might be due a few bob.

  22. Mark Steyn, ex Daily Telegraph columnist, does not have a degree and entered the journalist profession in the old fashioned way. I rate him as one of the best journalist I have ever come across.

    In the old-fashioned way you had to please your bosses and the public, in this new degreed route they turn out brainwashed zombies that spout the same shit and are interchangeable like lego blocks. That is why the printed press is dying a slow and torturous death in front of our very own eyes.

  23. If you think Labour being captured by the professional class is bad, the communists have been captured by the professorial class…

    I get the feeling Martin Davies is not up to date with current student funding arrangements. Also “universal”, in the context of UBI, by definition means no means testing. Far as I can see, he is thinking of the existence of various means-tested benefits available in specific life circumstances and mistaking it for a universal income. There are perfectly reasonable grounds to oppose UBI but “we already have it” isn’t one of them.

    The example cited above of the feminist blogger threatened with homelessness is a good example of where the current safety net doesn’t have the same risk-reduction effect that UBI would. Having said that, the risk it would be making easier to take, would be of attempting to join the commentariat rather than the cause of journalism per se. As the Stigler wonderfully classifies it, it’d be subsidised indulgence. The hope, and to some extent the evidence, is that on aggregate more “productive” risks get taken than “indulgent” ones.

    @BIG – Are you by any chance a “big city” person? Out in the shires the local press is shutting down or being amalgamated at a formidable rate. This is thoroughly documented – as a glance at the trade papers for journalism, or of discussions about share prices of the companies operating in the sector, would show you. A few free-sheets, with minimal local focus, distributed in major metro centres shouldn’t be mistaken for a renaissance of the local press. It’s dying on its arse out there.

  24. Post-graduate scholarships are available for students of ability to conduct research that has value. Surely that is how it should be. If, on the other hand, people want to do a post-graduate degree for their own benefit, they should pay for it. I support government provision of loan schemes to assist people but they should refund the taxpayer once finished.

  25. “I’m surprised there hasn’t been more of a left wing reaction against it, instead of an escalation of the credentialist arms race.”

    Credentialism is a cudgel of the left. Without it, they would be forced to provide value commensurate with their position and pay. And we just can’t have that, now, can we?

  26. @The Great Redacto

    ‘Subsidising the local press is a non runner – people just don’t want the papers. The patterns of family and work life on which those readerships of way back when existed just aren’t there any more. Not true everywhere, but mostly true.’

    I don’t disagree with the fact that fewer people read local papers (though I’m not sure people just stopped being interested in what happens around them, so it seems to me that partly it is because they are full of drek, and they are full of drek partly because they have no staff, and those they do have are paid peanuts).

    That said, I’m not really bothered about people reading them, I’m bothered about them disappearing so *no-one can read them even if they want to*.

    A world where our local magistrates’ and crown courts and town and borough councils are just not covered by anyone is quite frightening.

    In the courts, I can tell you that where there used to be reporters in the crown court and mags courts every day, now you hardly ever see them.

    Equally, where are the old crime reporters, who knew the cops and went on the piss with them? Do they still exist? These days, cops have to file a contact report every time they meet a member of the press, even socially. Same with members of the armed forces.

    Currently, because of CPS inadequacy, serious crimes which ought to go to Crown Court – inc rape and knifings charged as ABHs – are being bealt with by caution or heard by magistrates.

    It goes both ways. A friend of mine is privately representing a man who has been charged with various offences against his wife. Fair enough, you may think, except that she is mad (paranoid delusions), and senile, and the prosecution’s *own medical expert* says unsurprisingly that she is an unreliable witness. She calls the cops out fifty times a day over nothing.

    The defendant is banned from his own home and perhaps worst of all thinks that social services are not caring properly for the wife he still loves, despite it all.

    Who will report it all when the case is finally dropped? Where is the court reporter to go up to my friend, whom she knows because she’s been sitting covering that court for the last twenty years, and ask him for a quote about the insanity of it all?

    There is masses of this stuff going on, and none of it is being reported because the old court reporters have almost all vanished, and those staff who are left are writing stories about dross or copying out press releases.

    It’s unrealistic to expect individuals to cover courts and councils on a blogging basis. So all I’m saying is, in the absence of a better solution, and I don’t doubt there may be one, I would not object to subsidy.

    I don’t object to paying for the police, I wouldn’t object to paying something for a press to watch them.

  27. @BIG

    ‘Come on, there’s more local press than ever before!

    Whether they actually cover local stuff or just pad the adverts with agency copy, I’ve no idea.’

    Weird thing is, they do seem to cover very local stuff – village fetes etc – but they don’t cover the big important things very well.

    It’s all very well talking about the ads, but the news is important too – if it helps, a bit, to keep the bastards honest.

    @MyBurningEars

    ‘@BIG – Are you by any chance a “big city” person? Out in the shires the local press is shutting down or being amalgamated at a formidable rate. This is thoroughly documented – as a glance at the trade papers for journalism, or of discussions about share prices of the companies operating in the sector, would show you. A few free-sheets, with minimal local focus, distributed in major metro centres shouldn’t be mistaken for a renaissance of the local press. It’s dying on its arse out there.’

    Exactly.

  28. I disagree about accountants. My firm takes on school leavers rather than graduates, and they do very well. We will take on graduates, but only if they’re prepared to come in on the same terms as the 18-year-olds. I understand that some of the big firms are doing the same.

    So in my neck of the woods, all you need to get into accountancy is decent A levels and a sharp mind.

  29. These days, cops have to file a contact report every time they meet a member of the press, even socially. Same with members of the armed forces.

    Dunno about the filth, but that isn’t true for the Army.

  30. “We could say much the same about being a solicitor or an accountant. Many a working class boy has made good by doing their articles while working in the past. Now it’s graduate only entry (in effect, if not in possibility) and once again the selection process favours background.”

    …And there is no retraining, either, because of the “Equivalent or lower qualification” rules for student loans, you are not eligible for any further funding, even if you have no student debt, to fund further study or a second degree. If you get work in any capacity around credentialed professionals easily have the ability and fancy becoming one, you’re paying for it yourself.

    BernieG: You don’t need a BSc in engineering to work in advanced manufacturing – I should know because I don’t have one. The employers just like to have such people because it is nice and easy to demand it in a vacancy advertisment and it flatters their vanity. The culture of “2:1 or higher” is basically just an exercise in saying “you’ve got to be above average to work here.” No other culture grades degrees in this fashion, you either get one or you don’t, and so the result is this nonsense.

  31. The complaint in the Guardian seems to be that one must have a university degree (and more) to get on in life, and that this is too expensive for children of poor parents.

    A quick search shows that in 2011 over 46% of UK residents in the age range 25 to 34 had degrees; this ranks the UK 6th in the world. It used to be much lower, and there used to be a lot of alternative employment qualifications (such as the HNC and HND sort, in STEM subjects, which still exist but are much less favoured than they used to be).

    As for the complaints that you need a degree to be a solicitor, would you want to be advised on important matters by someone who falls into the bottom 53% of educational attainment (as proxy for their intellectual ability)? I think it used to be around 15% in the early 1970s when I graduated (split between universities and polytechnics). Clearly giving a further 3 years of full-time education to another 30% of the relevant age range has costs to be met: in shelter, food and warmth (as well as the costs of teaching). Do we really think that that 30% is improved sufficiently, compared to other much less expense means, to warrant those costs?

    The troubles can be analysed further, but roughly they come down to socialist demands (from the likes of the Guardian) that none must be valued below those that are best. So the meritocracy of grammar schools goes (wrongly labelled as elitist, thank you Richard Crossman), and then all tertiary education must lead to university degrees (thank you John Major) and at least half the people must have one (thank you Tony Blair).

    As well as educating the mind and providing vocational learning, the need for a pecking order is forgotten: by this scheme of removing differentiation of achievement, or suppressing it as much as possible. Also forgotten is the concept of learning on the job being firstly very useful (and better for many types of job and people) and secondly very cost-effective.

    So we are left (broke and broken) with an informal system: which university one goes to and how rich are one’s parents (or other supporters) in funding or subsidising internships. And the rich probably now obtain even more relative benefit for their offspring than they ever used to under the arrangements of 40 or so years ago: that socialists have done so well to wreck – rather than improve – through their claimed good intentions.

    The only real way forward is to lean strongly towards meritocracy, whilst acknowledging that judgements will be approximate, and so quite rough around the edges; also that well educated and motivated parents cannot be stopped from providing guidance and encouragement for their offspring (so the issue is not just money). Then having a multiplicity of staggered overlapping types of different (and differently named) education types and streams to reduce the worst unfairness, rather than the rampant and all-pervasive injustices that come from believing the very concept that government’s one type/stream fits all.

    As for ‘journalists: supposed tribunes of the people’, don’t make me laugh. The commonly seen problem is not the bias of their class, upbringing or money, it’s their everyday demonstration of ignorance of facts and poor analysis, supported by not actually caring to do a good job.

    Best regard

  32. Oh bother, and apologies. In my comment above, I forgot to cut and paste the actual link to the 46%, here it is:
    in 2011 over 46% of UK residents in the age range 25 to 34 had degrees.

    There is also some confusion in paragraph 3, where editing without adequate proof-reading was a problem. Try with a break in the 3rd paragraph, after “intellectual ability”. And start the next paragraph by inserting “Back to the proportion having university degrees,” before “I think it used to be around 15%”.

    Best regards

  33. I think you mean to thank Tony Crosland (along with Shirley Williams) as the destroyer of British state education.

    “If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to destroy every fucking grammar school in England. And Wales and Northern Ireland”

  34. Nigel,

    “As for the complaints that you need a degree to be a solicitor, would you want to be advised on important matters by someone who falls into the bottom 53% of educational attainment (as proxy for their intellectual ability)?”

    That is of course the problem. For most degrees, what is learnt is irrelevant (outside law, medicine, veterinary, engineering, comp sci). It’s really just a marker of being in the top bit and creates an arms race of qualifications. If you want to sort out the top 15% you no longer use a degree, you get into higher grades, or which graduates have a masters.

    With reference to comments above, joining a supermarket as a trainee store manager at one time would have been set at a A-levels.

    Worst of all, degrees don’t often tell you what you want to know because intellect isn’t a single axis thing. People with a reasonable grade at maths A level tend to outperform humanities graduates at programming, in my experience. Humanities graduates tend to be better people people than Comp Sci graduates. And the only person you’d want from a women’s studies course is someone who dropped out of it.

  35. Tim Almond: I wouldn’t consider someone with a computer science degree to be especially suitable for IT or programming. In fact, when I am asked to sift CVs, I’ll go for a smart maths graduate every time.

  36. I wouldn’t consider someone with a computer science degree to be especially suitable for IT or programming.

    And many Computer Science departments, especially at the older universities, seem abnormally proud of this. Their objective seems to be the generation of the next load of industry-ignorant, practicality-differently-abled, Comp Sci lecturers.

  37. Or consider nursing, which is now and all-graduate “profession”. You can read what you like into the word “graduate” in this context, but sure as hell the working class girls won’t be so likely to make it, and the ones who do will be too posh to wipe bums. Where does this leave nursing?

    Oh and anecdote – my youngest son passed Advanced Higher Music (in Scotland roughly the equivalent of a good “A” leverl) – he can’t read music. And exams haven’t been dumbed down? Tell it to the marines…

  38. The destruction of grammar schools was the worst thing that ever happened to clever working class kids.

    I was born and lived in a council house for 18 years, my dad was a warehouseman. I passed my 11+, went to grammar school, never had any problems with middle class kids, got scholarship to study engineering at uni, got 2:1, got scholarship for PhD. Married council house girl, daughter of lorry driver. Had great career and life. In age of ‘egalitarian’ education, now very much well to do professional class, used catchment area to get best education for kids in UK and paid for private education in Australia.

    Had there been no grammar schools in the 70s it would certainly have been far more difficult for me to be where I am today. Our kids have definitely benefited from our very comfortable financial situation, though the two PhDs have both been fully funded and neither son has a future debt associated with them.

  39. I am a solicitor, and see no reason why we couldn’t have very able candidates take the old option of 5 years’ articles rather than going to university. At university I studied Roman law and public international law, neither of which are of any relevance except perhaps to 0.01% of practitioners.

    I agree with the comments bemoaning the demise of grammar schools. I was lucky enough to get a state assisted place at a small independent school and I doubt I would be a graduate now if I hadn’t done so.

    As for dumbing down, this has been going on since time immemorial. I’m sure I remember the Oxbridge entrance exam papers from the seventies being much harder than those I sat (mid to late eighties). I also own a book called the “‘O’ level book” which similarly shows that exams were harder in the 70s than when I sat them (early mid eighties).

    I would pay more tax for more equality of opportunity, I think. Grammar schools in particular. For me, the kids will be educated at an independent school – they are too precious to risk in the state sector

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