Survey uncovers generation gap

When they think of the word ‘industry’ young people see money and computers whereas older people see dirt and decline

Younger people’s attitudes towards ‘industry’ have almost nothing in common with those of older people, a new national survey by the Work Foundation has found.

Where people over 45 years old tend to think of smokestacks and coal mines, noise and grime, those under 30 – and particularly those under 24 – tend to be future-oriented in their word-associations, summoning images of computers, success, money and technology.

The mass word-association survey of over 1000 people was commissioned to test perceptions of industry at a time when it is frequently assumed that Britain has become a ‘post-industrial’ nation. The study asked people for their mental pictures of industry and found that attitudes to industry may be in transition with young and old coming up with markedly different images. The study found:

•The top word associations among people aged under 24 for ‘industry’ were; money, busyness, booming, computers, success and technology. The top word associations among people over 45 were factory, decline, dirt, strike, China, and masculinity/maleness.

•Overall, the most popular word associations were factory (26.6%), followed by money (19.8%), decline (11.7%), busyness (6.2%) and computers (6.2%). The older the respondent the less money tended to be associated with industry.

•Belief in the decline of industry is not as widespread as is sometimes assumed. Asked whether they thought British industry was doing better or worse than 30 years ago, a total of 54% said it was doing worse, 33% better and 10% about the same (the remainder said they didn’t know).

•But among younger people, the perception is again considerably more positive. Among the16-24 age group, 79.3% say they believe that British industry is doing better than 30 years ago.

•There are also marked regional differences. People in Wales were more likely to associate coal mines with industry than in other regions. Londoners were more likely to think of money.

The survey was commissioned by AMEC, The Sunday Times and The Work Foundation, who together are organising the Best of British Industry Awards, a major new initiative to celebrate leadership by UK industrial companies.

Sir Peter Mason, Chief Executive of AMEC, said: “Younger people are clearly recognising that industry is more about computer screens today than hard hats, and that’s good news – because we are still very short of new graduates in engineering science and technology. Moreover, as these graduates enter the workplace, they will reshape industrial relations, as their expectations of their careers will be quite different.”

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