SLOW growth, sticky levels of inflation and rising interest rates. The economic narrative has been bleak for some time and the pressure on household budgets immense.
As another academic year begins, last year’s exam results have being received, university courses selected and life paths considered; many are still pondering the best route for them. We cannot underestimate how daunting it must be for young people embarking on further or higher education amidst this backdrop.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Businesses up and down the land continue to create good jobs. They increasingly provide excellent in-work training and development, health and wellbeing support and of course a good day’s pay for a good day’s work; which provides a sense of worth that little else can match.
In business you learn teamwork, leadership and problem-solving. You can arrive home at the end of a day knowing things were better for the part you played.
It is business too that will provide the innovation, dynamism and fresh thinking that underpin our future economic resurgence. But it can’t do this without good people from diverse backgrounds.
That’s why I say to young people today, don’t be disheartened if you did not get the grades you wanted or were not accepted onto the degree course you desired this summer. University isn’t for everyone - nor does it automatically set you up for success.
There are good jobs in good businesses up and down the land that don’t require a degree certificate, nor the burden of tens of thousands of pounds of student debt.
Just take Finnebrogue, the County Down food business I serve as chief strategy officer. It's a family-owned firm employing 1,200 people and supplying the country’s biggest supermarkets with some of the finest food anywhere in the world.
We were founded by a man excluded from school at 15 with no qualifications. We have enjoyed a period of extraordinary growth since, into the £200 million business we are today; all delivered by a diverse group of people with different backgrounds and life experiences.
Take Joe, the general manager of our sausage factory. He started life as a bricklayer, having left school at 16 with no qualifications. He joined us as a sausage packer in 2011, then earning minimum wage. He now leads a team of 600 people and runs the UK’s most advanced sausage production facility.
Then there is Egle, who took an entry level job with us in 2013. She soon learnt the skills to become a machine operator, developed the leadership qualities to become a supervisor and two years ago became our night shift operations manager, with responsibility for leading a team of 300 people.
Or Rachael, who as a student joined us part-time in 2021 to help produce our pigs in blankets for Christmas. She has made an outstanding contribution to the Finnebrogue family, since deciding to stay with us full time. Rachael is neurodiverse, but that hasn’t set her back. She was recognised for embodying everything Finnebrogue is about by her peers this year, being named one of our monthly values champions.
These are stories of hard work, personal development and social mobility. They are stories that show what a good job can do for people’s life chances and those of their families. They are stories of impressive people applying themselves in the workplace and reaping the rewards.
And they don’t begin with a double first from a Russell Group university. Far from it.
Business often receives a bad press for the contribution it makes to society. Polling from the Jobs Foundation shows one in five British people think all businesses are ‘greedy’ and one in six think businesses ‘don’t care about people like me’.
But for every horror story there are a hundred positive tales of business being the engine for prosperity, opportunity and social mobility.
At Finnebrogue we seek to attract intelligent people who act with integrity and bring with them bundles of energy. Intelligence comes in many different forms - and our business can only succeed if we build brilliant, bright and diverse teams.
We are proud of our academic high flyers, but we also want people like Joe, Egle and Rachael who may not always have been top of the English literature or trigonometry class growing up. They too will be our leaders of tomorrow.
Good jobs provide better life chances and fuel future growth. They are good for people and good for our economy – and it is the private sector which creates them.
That is why the work of the Jobs Foundation, a new non-partisan charity, is so vital. It will make this case and help to harness the power of jobs to alleviate poverty and boost prosperity. Because it is clear to me you will learn more from a good job than a bad degree.
:: Jago Pearson is chief strategy officer at Finnebrogue and a member of the advisory council of the Jobs Foundation