There was an idiot on the radio, the other morning, as there all too frequently is. He was a journalist interviewing a guest, talking about the economy. The hoary old subject of Britain’s decline as artisans, craftspeople and as the manufacturing powerhouse, to the world, came up. The same old propaganda was spewed forth by this journalist, in justification of the investment banks preferring to dabble in funny money, making rapid, fragile paper-profits, rather than backing people that actually make things of value and service to humanity, over the long term. “But where will you get the skills?” was the trite and disingenuous question.
You often hear that we don’t make anything anymore because you can’t get the skills, but this is a deliberate deception and a misrepresentation of how skills are actually obtained.
You get the skills by doing.
Brunel couldn’t initially find shipbuilders that made ships with steel, when he decided to make ships that way. There were no steel ships. He had to let his shipbuilders learn by doing.
Stephenson couldn’t find steam engineers to build railway trains, when he first went into that business. There were no railway trains. He had to let them learn by doing.
Wedgwood couldn’t find skilled potters to mass-produce fine tableware, using his radical, new methods. There were no people skilled in his radical, new methods. He had to let them learn by doing.
There were no carbon fibre composites fabricators in existence, before some guys in Farnborough gave it a go. Yet, Britain, for a very long time and perhaps even today, led the world in carbon fibre composites.
It’s a distorted and misleading argument to say we don’t make things because there are no makers. There are no oil painters that have never held a brush either. You have to employ people to become makers. The price of success is the many failures it takes to perfect the skills. It’s just that the investment bankers don’t want to pay that price.
The population and nation of China didn’t wake up, one fine morning, with all the necessary manufacturing skills we once had in the West suddenly available to them. They determined to set up to be skilled manufacturers and learnt how to become the new workshop of the world. It took steady, unwavering commitment from their funders.
Find me one person on Wall St or in the City of London that genuinely cares about making things, or even has the vaguest clue about how it is done. Even if you produce one that espouses their respect for makers, they almost never put their money where their mouth is. That’s the real lack of skills: the lack of vision about the things that could be made, if only there was the will to do so. Nobody counts the opportunity cost because to do so would require a leap of imagination which they are, evidently, singularly incapable of achieving.
It appears to be far easier for them to create a new kind of derivative and pretend it adds real value to the plight of humanity, when in fact it does not. If anything, it produces a net loss of value to society. They extort effort and value creation, by way of debt, anyway. All businesses that rely on bank lending are effectively controlled by and beholden to the whims of the bank and bled dry of their profits, by way of interest charges on money the bank never actually ever had in its vaults. Those are the profits that could have been reinvested in up-skilling. Unfortunately, these financiers are running out of existing manufacturing enterprises to pillage and plunder for profit, hence the focus on inventing ever more exotic financial instruments. The net value of all derivatives in the world now eclipses real global GDP, the measure of goods and services actually produced, by an order of magnitude at least. What this means is that 90% of the value supposedly locked up in those derivatives has to be pure, imaginary vapour. There is no production to back it.
Job creation is all about deciding to do useful things and then doing them. The money should follow, not lead the process. Otherwise, the tail wags the dog.
The answer to the question, “Where will we get the skills?” is, self evidently, “From the creativity, adaptability, ingenuity, application and diligence of the people that choose to be makers.”
Skills don’t come from anywhere else.