Thursday 27 January 2011

Preventing another 'lost generation' of teenagers

There was a wonderful programme on last night in which world renowned chef, Michel Roux, trains eight young people to become front of house staff of the standard expected in the very best restaurants. The teenagers, mostly taking from modest backgrounds, are given training in all the skills necessary to run a top restaurant and provide high standards of service.

This programme was striking for two reasons - first watching these children, none of whom are used to eating at top quality restaurants, excelling in an environment alien to them, second the kind way in which Michel Roux treats these children - encouraging them, making them believe in themselves.

I live across the road from the Aylesbury Estate - Europe's largest council estate - in South London. You may recognise it as the 'Jasmin Allen' estate in ITV's The Bill, or as the place Tony Blair visited on his first day as Prime Minister:

What makes me most angry about the deprivation on this vast estate is that there will be lots of kids, just like the ones in this programme, who have never been given the opportunity handed to Roux's eight teenagers.

Ed Miliband has recently been talking about a 'lost generation' of teenagers who, he believes, are going to be left on the scrapheap due to the coalition's cuts. This is a cheap and hollow soundbite.

When Blair visited the Aylesbury Estate in 1997 he was sending a message that no one would be left behind. Despite the billions spent over 13 years of Labour, far too many young people who are my age and younger have never been given a chance in life.

There is little doubt that the costly strategies and tactics of the past need to be left behind - not another generation of teenagers on the Aylesbury Estate and thousands of others like it.

The approach of Roux and his team works - his kindness and belief in each individual is a catalyst for them to work harder, achieve more. It is a stark contrast to programmes like The Apprentice where it is sink or swim, dog eat dog.

As Iain Duncan Smith and his team work on strategies to prevent yet another generation of teenagers from being thrown on the scrapheap, I hope they take time to look at Roux's approach as this kind of investment is one that does actually reap its rewards.  

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