Vocational Training.

Army Estimates, 1931. – in the House of Commons on 10th March 1931.

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Photo of Mr Edgar Granville Mr Edgar Granville , Eye

I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words: in the opinion of this House, further facilities should be given for the extension and improvement of vocational training in the Regular Army. In asking the Minister to consider this Amendment, I want to draw the attention of the House to the serious position that has arisen in regard to untrained discharged soldiers being thrown on to the already overcrowded employment market. Hon. Members on these benches have never ceased to urge the Government to tackle the problem of unemployment, and it is a vital part of this question, in our view, that the supply of unemployables should be checked at the source. It is bad enough when young men get into dead-end employments, but it is worse when these young men serve their best years and find themselves adrift, with no skill or earning capacity, to find that neither ambition nor the reward of service avail unless they have skill to offer that somebody wants to buy.

To-day the British Army recruits something like 1,000 young men every year, to leave them in a position of being more or less unemployable in industry when their military service ends. The position at present is that the strength of the standing Army is 150,000, and there are some 30,000 who will pass out in the current year, of whom 1,991 will have received vocational training before they go out. In other words, 7 per cent. of those who will be discharged will have received vocational training before entering civilian life. I know the three centres at Aldershot, Hounslow and Chisledon, where they have a maximum capacity of 2,950, have many duties to perform, but if these three centres were with their full capacity they would only be able to deal with 10 per cent. of those men who would be discharged from the Army every year. This means that 93 per cent. leave the Colours in this country with no skilled trade at their finger tips.

There is another aspect of this question to which I would draw attention. On an average, the Army recruits something like 30,000 a year. By far the greatest number of these are under 20 years of age, and the 18-year-old group forms nearly half of the total. Seventy per cent. of those who join the Colours serve for a period of from five to nine years. Taking the mean average of these, a recruit joins at 18 and serves seven years, until he is 25. These are the years when a young man should be learning a trade, and under the present arrangement at the War Office the great bulk of these young men are turned out into civilian life with no skilled trade with which to earn their livelihood. The recruiting posters which I have seen up and down this country are very enticing and attractive and very well designed, but unless you are going to train young men who go into the Army during this period of adolescence, unless you are going to give these men a training which will equip them for civilian life, you are attracting these young men into nothing less than a blind-alley occupation. An Army career for one of these young men who goes in under those conditions threatens to become a means to an end, and that end, under the present arrangement, unless there is some extension of it, inevitably means the Employment Exchange.

I suggest to the Secretary of State for War that the time has come for the Labour Government to make a full investigation and, I hope, eventually to carry out a full reorganisation, certainly a considerable extension, of the system of vocational training which obtains at the present time in the British Army. Under the present system it is by no means certain that when a young man is trained and goes into civilian life he is going to get a job, and I want to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is satisfied that in these three centres where training is now given they are being taught the right trades. Some of the older trades in the country are undergoing a very difficult period of depression, and it seems to me that if this scheme of vocational training is going to be worth anything at all to these young men or the older soldiers before they go into civilian life, you ought to begin to look at some of the trades that are to be taught, like cabinet making, furniture making, bricklaying, carpentering, and housing, because these are trades that are doing well. I know that cabinetmaking is doing well, and—

Photo of Sir Frederick Messer Sir Frederick Messer , Tottenham South

Is the hon. Member aware of the fact that 30 per cent, of the french polishers are out of work?

Photo of Mr Edgar Granville Mr Edgar Granville , Eye

It may be, but they are not the whole of the furnishing trade. The fact remains that at a town like High Wycombe, which is a big furnishing trade centre, you had up to recently practically no unemployment at all. There are many reasons why it is a flourishing trade. It would be far better to link up these men in vocational training with a new trade than to train them to some of the depressed trades in the country. I suggest that there is ample opportunity and scope in the chemical industry, in engineering, the motor industries, wireless and gramophones, the catering trades, tailoring and clothing, the electrical trades, and so on. You may be in a position to turn men out to go into some of the trades that are at present depressed, and you may merely be adding to the unemployed in those trades.

There ought to be the closest co-operation between the Army and the employers' federations, the trade unions, and the Ministry of Labour. It ought to be possible, in these days, to plan on a wide scale extensive training for desirable workers in these particular skilled trades. It is no good selecting trades at random. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War is satisfied that the instructors in the schools for vocational training are highly equipped technicians and are able to train these men in the very latest methods and technique of the trades which they are teaching.

There is also the question of migration. I know that the Chisledon vocational training centre, which is responsible for the training of men for work on the land, is now, because of the reduction or more or less stoppage of migration, going through a, very difficult time, but I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that here is a depot where men are being trained to work on the land, and I hope he will have a serious heart-to-heart talk with the Minister of Agriculture, to see whether, under the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) it will be possible, particularly in connec- tion with experimental farming on a big scale, to put these men who are being trained at Chisledon—and more ought to be trained—not so much in the Colonies, but to put them to work under this scheme on the colonisation of our own country. During the War, a number of Dominion soldiers who came over here got to know our troops; they talked together and rubbed shoulders together; and I would suggest that it would be worth while exploring to see if the Big Brother Movement could be extended in the British Empire between ex-service men. That has been one of the most successful forms of emigration. When a man goes out, they see that he gets proper accommodation, good conditions of labour, and so on—

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Robert Young):

The hon. Member is now speaking of migration, but he must link that up with vocational training in this country.

Photo of Mr Edgar Granville Mr Edgar Granville , Eye

I was going to develop that point merely in order to suggest that at the present time there is no outlet for these men who are being trained at Chisledon, owing to the cessation of migration, and that it might be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to investigate and try to arrange some scheme in connection with the Big Brother Movement with regard to ex-service men, whereby men who are being trained at the vocational training centres are sent to the Dominions and there put under the wing of ex-service men in those Dominions.

I have been reading the Army Estimate's very carefully, and I see that vocational training centres are for selected men in less highly specialised trades, that men attending the courses derive considerable benefit from them, and that, in order to discourage men who might otherwise join in order to escape regimental duties, they are all required to make a contribution to the cost of their training. I can well imagine a private in the British Army to-day, who is earning from 2s. to 3s. 6d. a day, finding it difficult to afford the 5s. a week which I understand is the lowest charge that is made as a contribution towards his vocational train- ing; and I think that the time has come when industrial training ought to be made a part of the daily routine of all British soldiers wherever it is possible, and that the question of asking them to pay 5s. a week when they only get from 2s. to 3s. 6d. a day should be reconsidered by the right hon. Gentleman's Department. It would be far better to get these men in at a smaller charge and enable them to obtain same kind of appointment when they leave the Army.

In my view, the spirit of the age today is entirely against so many ceremonial parades in the British Army. I would rather go and visit an exhibition of the productions of the vocational training centres in this country than go and visit the Aldershot tattoo, on which thousands of soldiers are spending their ordinary training. We did hope that, when the right hon. Gentleman came into office as a Labour Minister, he would take a step in the right direction in regard to these ceremonial parades. The tragedy is that these men leave the Army, after their military service, with practically no equipment. They go out on to a market where there is considerable unemployment at the present time. They go out, perhaps, into trades which are already over-glutted. They go out into a casual kind of employment, as taxi-drivers and so forth, and I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman knows how difficult it is to obtain jobs in that section of industry. I suggest to him that, if he is going to try to get more of the younger men in this country to go into the Army, it will be necessary to prevent it from being a blind alley occupation. A large number of these boys who go out at the age of 25 are not going to give seven years of their lives, during the adolescent period when they should be getting a civilian training, unless the right hon. Gentleman and the Army authorities take steps to give them adequate training so that, when they go out into civil life, they will be able to get a job alongside those people who did not go into the Army.

The right hon. Gentleman is a Labour War Minister, and he ought not to be afraid in this connection of tradition and brass hats, or to be content merely to follow meekly in the footsteps of his predecessors. I came of a generation who went out almost in our schooldays, and many in their training days, giving their adolescent period to military training; and I speak to-night remembering those young men who did that. We do not want to see the same kind of thing happening in the next generation. The danger exists, and I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to take a bold initiative in this matter, and try to give to all these young men who go into the Army, whether for five years or for nine years, an adequate opportunity, when they go out into civil life, to equip themselves to earn their livelihood. I am perfectly certain that, if the right hon. Gentleman does that, he will not only have the backing of this House, but will see that part of the difficulties of recruiting of which he has told us to-day will have vanished into thin air.

Photo of Major Cecil Dudgeon Major Cecil Dudgeon , Galloway

I beg to second the Amendment.

I would like to make one or two suggestions to the Secretary of State for War with regard to this question of vocational training. In the first place, one must congratulate the War Office on having initiated more extensive vocational training in the post-War period, from which they have obtained definite results. Not only is more employment given to men when they leave the Colours, but there is a greater readiness now among the general body of employers to take ex-soldiers into their employment. It appears to me that a good deal of decentralisation would be desirable in regard to vocational training. The three training centres, as my hon. Friend has stated, only deal with a comparatively small number of men, and I am inclined to think that they are trained along, perhaps, a few specific lines. If we could train a much larger proportion of the men who are leaving the Colours along wider lines, I think they would undoubtedly find employment more readily.

In this connection I am inclined to think that men coming near to the completion of their service at home are in a more favoured position than men coming near to the completion of their service abroad, and, if it were possible, say in the last six months of service, to get a larger proportion of men serv- ing abroad brought home for vocational training, it would be a step in the right direction. The regimental depots, and especially the infantry depots, are mainly concentrated in the territorial areas of the various regiments, and they might be utilised for vocational training. We might get a larger proportion of the men of those regiments who are doing their last six months of service brought home and transferred to the depot. Not only would this lead to their being trained along vocational lines, but I think, also, that they would find employment more readily in their territorial areas. Moreover, I think it would be possible to get expert instructors at comparatively low rates, and I see no reason why there should not be a certain amount of co-operation, in the training of these Service men, between the War Office and the local education authorities.

Education authorities are very considerably extending technical education and increasing their technical staff, and the highly-trained teachers should be utilised with a certain amount of co-operation in instruction of the men who are about to leave the Colours. After all, it is very important that these men should as far as possible receive training during the whole period of service. I know it is particularly difficult to train the men who are serving with units abroad, but possibly something could be done to allow a continuous vocational training in certain specific lines. I have no figures, but I am inclined to think that the employment of ex-naval ratings is more satisfactory than that of ex-soldiers, and should think that is largely because the sailor gets a certain amount of training on board ship on vocational lines. I notice in the Navy Estimates that ships and dockyards have vocational courses.

It appears to me that the Navy has achieved more decentralisation in its vocational training than the Army. It appears from Army methods that we have had a great deal of concentration in regard to the three particular centres, and vocational training has not been carried out to a very large extent in particular units, though I fully recognise the difficulty of giving effective training in these units.

I think it is necessary to take a survey very frequently in regard to the likely avenues of employment and that men, as far as possible, should be induced to take vocational courses where they are likely to find employment when they leave the Service. It is also of extreme importance to get highly-trained instructors. These men are only going to be trained for a comparatively short time, and it is, therefore, of extreme importance that the instructors should have the highest possible qualifications, so that the men may have an opportunity, in whichever occupation they are entering, of competing on fairly level terms with those who have not joined the Army and have, therefore, had better opportunities. I would ask the Secretary of State to take into consideration the necessity of trying to get the greatest possible volume of men trained along some vocational line, because in that way alone I am strongly of opinion that we shall be able to find a larger proportion of them absorbed in useful occupations in civil life and getting posts. In my opinion, it has always been a grave slur on the country that so many ex-soldiers were tramping the highways and by-ways unable to find a decent livelihood.

Photo of Mr John Scurr Mr John Scurr , Stepney Mile End

I followed the hon. Member who has moved the Amendment with considerable interest, more, apparently, than the House itself has followed him, seeing the small numbers that have been present while he has been putting forward his interesting proposal. Even the party to which he belongs has not honoured him with the attendance of many of its Members. I do not think there is one of us who would not agree that men in the Army should, if possible, be trained, so that when they come out they may be able to find employment, but the hon. Member has not told us where we are going to find the employment for them. He instances cabinet-making. I have in my constituency a large number of highly skilled cabinet-makers, who have passed through their apprenticeship, who are walking about, some having to go to the Public Assistance Committee to get something to tide over their difficulty. We are saying to the soldier, "We will train you, and if there is a job, you can have it." He will get into that job and the man who has been through his apprenticeship will be put out. Here we are up against the whole problem of the capitalist system. The same question has arisen for years in regard to ordinary apprenticeship in civil life. Parents sacrifice a good bit very often and send their boys to a technical school and apprentice them and all the rest of it, and in the end there are hundreds of them perfectly competent but walking about without a job. The thing to do is not to talk about the vocational training of soldiers, but to say where the work is on which can be employed not only those who have been trained in the Army but those who have been trained outside. If we get down to that problem, there will be no need for Amendments of this description.

Photo of Mr Thomas Shaw Mr Thomas Shaw , Preston

With the spirit of the Amendment I am quite in accord and as far as may be humanly possible, will do what I can in any reasonable way to help to realise the state of things that the hon. Member would like to see, in which a soldier will automatically return to civil life and find a place waiting for him. I think, however, that his figures must be exaggerated. I should not be honest if I let him go away with the idea that I thought it was possible, even at a great distance, to approach the ideal that he has laid down. Let me take, first of all, the actual condition as it is. A very large proportion of these men who are trained get back in civil life to a job, and I should think a higher proportion, generally speaking, get jobs than the ordinary working men. It is also true that constant endeavours are made to find jobs of all kinds for men who leave the Army and, to put it mildly, they have certainly as good a chance as the ordinary working man.

I cannot understand some of the hon. Member's statements. He seems to look upon taxicab driving as a kind of outside occupation. As a matter of fact, it is a very highly skilled occupation, and in London you have to pass an examination which is almost as difficult as getting a degree at a university before you can drive a taxicab. I will give an example in order to show what a taxicab driver has to do. For some time, I was driven about by a man who previously had been a coachman to the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain. He is a splendid driver. He knows London as I know the palm of my hand. He has actually failed to pass as a taxicab driver, and the authorities will not accept him. So that the hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in saying that taxicab driving is an unskilled occupation.

Secondly, it is not the case, if you have 180,000 men going into the Army, that 180,000 of them leave without a job at their finger-ends. Every man who is in a horse regiment leaves as a skilled horseman, with a knowledge of horses far greater than that acquired by the man who is brought up in the ordinary way in the country and deals with horses. Every man in the Royal Army Service Corps, every man in signalling, every man in a dozen different occupations on our mechanised side goes out of the Army a specialist, so that it is quite wrong to assume that people go out of the Army untrained and often not in a condition to earn their own living. I want the hon. Member to realise that I am saying this with all sympathy with him. In order to prevent myself from being accused of having made promises which I did not intend to perform, I will put the difficulties before him. He has mentioned half a dozen different trades, in all of which it is fairly safe to say that without actual workshop practice it is impossible to become a really skilled man under three or four years. Just imagine a state of things in which you have training institutions in the Army and in which you are going to train men to be equivalent to the skilled workmen in the trades which have been mentioned.

Frankly, the thing is impossible. You cannot have a man training as a soldier and training as one of these skilled workmen at the same time, and turn him out at the end of his course, after a few months specialised training, fitted to go into an ordinary workshop and make his living among other men, assuming that there were jobs waiting. Who would think for a single moment that you could send a man into a shop as an engineer with this class of training? If you attempted to run at every depot, as has been suggested, these training courses for anything up to a dozen different trades, with skilled inspectors at the disposal of the depots, the thing would be so tremendous in volume—I want hon. Gentlemen to look at it from the point of view of ordinary common sense—that in the matter of expense it would be impossible. You simply cannot do it. If you are to turn men out skilled men on those lines, it will not be a matter of thousands but of millions. That is no exaggeration, as the hon. Member will realise, if he will give it a moment's calm thought.

I am prepared to say to him—and I ask him to withdraw his Amendment on the grounds of the statement I am going to make—that what is humanly possible in order to advance this training in a practical way and to fit these men so that they can come back into civil life with a decent chance of a job, we will try to do, but we cannot do impossibilities. I will give a guarantee to the hon. Gentleman, if he will withdraw the Amendment, to do what I can in the matter, but I cannot perform miracles, and I do not promise to perform impossibilities.

Photo of Mr Edgar Granville Mr Edgar Granville , Eye

In view of the statement and the promise of the right hon. Gentleman, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.

Supply accordingly considered in Committee.

[Sir ROBERT YOUNG in the Chair.]