Earlier this week, Nick Hurd, a Tory minister claimed that young people are failing to find work because they lack ‘grit.’ Grit in psychology is a positive trait, based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal coupled with a strong motivation to achieve their objective. This perseverance includes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges’ a ‘gritty’ person will have the wherewithal and determination to accomplish his or her goal.Grit is obviously a positive trait to have, but can it be nurtured, are some born with it? I don’t think anyone knows yet for sure though it is possible perhaps that there are specific windows of time (such as early childhood) during which grit is most effectively cultivated. Still, most experts do believe that perseverance can be developed, since related traits like motivation and self-discipline can be instilled.Grit can be fostered by helping children find their passion, offering constructive criticism, being a ‘gritty’ role model and learning from failure.
Though some may agree with Nick Hurd’s analysis of why youth unemployment is one of the major problems of our age, may commentators have been outraged.In the Independent, Jane Merrick wrote,”It is Mr Hurd’s choice of the word “grit” which is so offensive, of course. To say that a person lacks grit suggests they are missing a gumption gene, that they are pathologically incapable of work or learning, which is just not true.” Even if there was a grain of truth in what Mr Hurd said, he fact that he is a fourth generation Old Etonian rather negates his theory, simply because he had no need to show determination to aspire to his political career-he was practically born in to it.The grittiest young person in the world could be thrown in to the depths of despair at the lack of prospects on offer to them. Iain Duncan Smith et al do not want to admit there really are nowhere near enough jobs to go round. There may be a smattering jobs and apprenticeships out there, but most are short-term, many on zero-hours contracts. A decline in our manufacturing industry has brought with it a rise in semi-skilled, high-turnover work which offers zero inspiration for a lifelong career.It is hard to see how the most resilient person could feel optimistic and determined when the chance of finding a decent job is so slim. And even if one is lucky enough to find a job offering full-time hours, it is highly unlikely that it will pay a decent ‘living wage,’ however willing one is to work hard.The low confidence and lack of self-esteem which so worries Mr Hurd is endemic in our society. Anyone who has been to public school has no hope of understanding this.
The point is that you don’t get articulate, confident young people who are engaged with the wider world by doing everything you can to make life harder for them. Tripling tuition fees and taking away Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) can’t have helped either. As the comic Mitch Benn tweeted,: “If you don’t have the grit or gumption to be born into a rich & important family, you’ve no one to blame but yourself.”