Three Myths of The Young Apprentice

The Young Apprentice is one of the very few programmes I make a point of watching. What’s odd is that I enjoy it even though it spreads three messages that I have a real problem with –

  • Firslty, it gives the impression that there is opportunity out there if ‘you only work hard enough’, when in reality the current crisis means it’s actually very tough to start up a small business or find employment, especially for young people.
  • Secondly, the show spreads the myth of meritocracy – We are typically presented with a range of candidates from all manner of social classes, gender and ethnic backgrounds suggesting equal opps, but in real life class privilege etc. still conspire to subvert genuine talent’s rise to the top.
  • Thirdly the show suggests that making a profit is more important than doing something socially useful, an idea I find odious,

To explore these message one  at a time…

Problematic Message One – Even though we’re in ‘tough economic times’ there’s still opportunity if you work hard enough.

OK Maybe this will come across as a little sad that I’ve done this, but if you calculate the profit per head per task and then divide by 2, you get the ‘day rate’ per candidate. The figures look something like this…

Approximate earnings per day for five tasks in the young apprentice

Task Platinum Odyssey Average per team Average per candiadate Average per candidate per day
Clothes 453 330 391 65 32.5
Cook Books* 7500 800 4150 754 377
Sandwiches 316 91 204 45 22.5
Kids Club** 11000 470 5735 1433 716.5
Womad 370 (sales) 283 (sales) 327 109 54.5
Average per candidate per day 240

*This of course assumes that all books are sold and that candidates receive £1 per book, which I think is a realistic estimate as to royalties on the type of books they produced.

* and ** These two ‘big profit tasks’ of course don’t actually take into account the costs of hiring the following

  • Half a day with the chefs to make the recipes/ half a day with the publishers
  • Half a day with the experts to help with the ideas generation of the kids club, or the costs of the materials for the demonstrations

Also neither of these projects are actually realistic in terms of your average teenager being able to start up such business because of the quality of the ‘laid on contacts’ with industry insiders, and the social desirability of purchasing a young apprentice product of course.

Given the above it might actually make more sense to look at the three ‘realistic’ business a teenager might set up – and for these the results are much worse.

Task Platinum Odyssey Average per team Average per candiadate Average per candidate per day
Clothes 453 330 391 65 32.5
Sandwiches 316 91 204 45 22.5
Womad 370 (sales) 283 (sales) 327 109 54.5
Average per candidate per day 36.50

If this is what the eleven brightest young people in the country can do (plus one hot-housed posh kid with inflated GCSEs) then Socialism help the rest of them is all I can say

Max – Defo the right candidate to go in week 1

Misleading Message Two – In the world of business it doesn’t matter what your class or ethnic background or your gender identity there’s a level playing field. OK I accept that in the apprentice the working classes seem to come good – In fact if anything Lord Sugar seems to have a deep suspicion of the posh – very probably because he’s ended up working with a lot of talent-less individuals who have risen up the ranks because of contacts rather than well, err talent.

In the real world of business what happens is that you need a leg up to be able to get yourself established – this will either mean money from your parents or an internship – often networked into, and in which you work for nothing for some months or even years. For evidence see below…

In addition to this if you’re a female looking to break into business, OK things are changing – but check out these stats from a previous blog of mine

All of this doesn’t stop me finding the apprentice hugely entertaining, I just hope a few people read this and think again about some of the potentially misleading messages it puts out….

Problem Message Three – Profit is more important than social utility

The contestants really have been asked to produce crap this year haven’t they?

Basically just crap – The Wetsuit Kimono

In episode 1, the task was to resell old clothes, which otherwise would have probably gone towards making money for  charity but instead ends up with either the BBC or Alan Sugar or the candidates (Actually I’ve no idea where the money ends up TBH!).  You could in fact argue that taking from charity results in negative social utility.

Episode two saw the candidates producing cook books – With one team producing a student cook book and the other a book which, in a total throwback to the 1980s, ended up with the title ‘the professional woman’. Whatever spin you put on a new cook book – the fact that there are are over 60 000 cookery books currently available on Amazon does suggest we don’t really need any more.

Episode three was all about sourcing a list of ten items for the very inclusive (NOT) Royal Opera House – Sugar putting the youth to work for the benefit of elite (kind of like apprenticeships and workfare).

Episode four revolved around the teams putting on a themed afternoon tea experience and sell them at a Stately Home – resulting in a ‘1940s’ theme and a ‘Mad Hatter’s’ theme – both of which I think we can agree are frankly pretty naff.

In episode five the candidates were required to develop a new kids club in order to attract investors who would potentially buy licenses. I will at this point concede that this venture does, finally, have some kind of genuine social utility – for parents at least.

The product of the most creative young business minds in the UK

Episode six saw the teams developing a new brand of hair spray and hair gel – Possibly the very epitome of products that lack any genuine social use value

In the penultimate episode candidates disturbed the ‘peace and love’ of the Womad festival to sell a combination of a cardboard box toilet and an umbrella seat on the one hand and onesies and camping washing machines on the other. Actually maybe these are even more useless than the hair products?

So of the seven episodes, there is only one potential product or service that has any genuine social utility, and that only for parents wealthy enough to pay for their kids’ extra curricular activities.

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The Young Apprentice – Find out More

The BBC – The Young Apprentice 2012

Digital Spy has quite a nice overview of what’s been going on

Sabotage Times – Is Lord Sugar really looking for a new carer?

Unreality TV – Has several posts on the Young Apprentice

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