There are pros and cons to every argument, and this one is no exception. With unemployment in 18-24 year olds still ‘worryingly high’ and a general apathy about work in the majority of young people I do wonder if bringing back conscription would benefit our society.
It would not have to be service in the traditional way, where the majority of young men (you couldn’t get away with that now anyway) were called up to the armed forces ultimately to train them for war; it could be any work which is needed by society. Perhaps you could choose between the traditional armed forces, working as a carer or domestic for hospitals and hospices, helping out on a farm or cleaning up our towns, cities and roadsides. You could volunteer overseas or run charity and aid projects in your local community, work with children or the elderly, anything which gives something back to the world around you. Each of these would teach a level of discipline, introduce young people to work and offer a chance to try something you may not previously have experienced in a safe environment surrounded by people your own age.
All those people who go to university unsure of what to study and who they want to be would have a year or two to work that out, while learning practical skills and also improving their fitness (I think all services should involve at least some physical aspect; why not fight obesity and teach kids about exercise at the same time as all the rest!) and earning money. By the age of 20 they would have a better idea of who they are, they would be more mature and better equipped to handle university life, they may be more prepared to knuckle down and work rather than viewing their education as an extra 3 years to lie in and get drunk (I’m massively stereotyping here of course). The money earned during national service could also go some way toward funding that education, should they wish to pursue it once they leave.
After 2 years of working for a wage, doing some form of exercise 5 days a week and learning skills surely we would have a generation of twentysomethings who are more prepared to life a full life and learn what it means to be accountable to the world around them? I’m not saying it would eradicate the workshy or lazy, and can imagine the cost of chasing those people who try to get out of it would not be low, but I’d hope the benefits would outweigh the costs.
So in essence, while there will never be a simple ‘click to fix’ solution for unemployment, and bringing back national service won’t necessarily create a boom in our economy, but it might teach the next generation something about work ethic, team work, compassion and other life skills which will make us a more productive and switched on nation – which I personally support wholeheartedly. I have often said I would have benefited from something like this, especially the discipline and fitness side of things. There would have been a national system in place to guide me, at a young and impressionable age, into learning more about myself and what I can achieve, while perhaps exploring the world, making lifelong friends and ultimately earning money. I don’t regret the choices I have made, and I’m happy with where I’ve ended up, but I can definitely see how a scheme like this would have benefited me, and surely that’s the point?