Letting 17 year-olds join the police is a triumph against snowflakery

We waste an enormous amount of the human resources of our young people. Instead of…

We waste an enormous amount of the human resources of our young people. Instead of providing university places for everyone with the intellectual skills to exploit them, we provide them to anyone who can achieve a basic A-level score. The result is many young people at poor universities studying for unrigorous degrees who end up unemployed, or having to take work for which they feel over-educated.

So it is good that the police are reducing the age at which one can apply to join to 17. It means that at a time in life when some would apply for a course offering little benefit either to them or society, they could apply instead for work of high social value; and for which two of the advantages of youth – physical fitness and familiarity with new technology and its applications – equip them admirably. With officials estimating that 50,000 new officers are needed nationally, it is an ideal means to help bring the force up to strength.

We are often told that our young people are idle, feckless, incapable of taking responsibility and prone to severe errors of judgment in their self-indulgence. Joining a disciplined service such as the police is a way for the generation about to leave school to prove their critics wrong. At the ages of 18, 17 or even 16 their forebears enlisted to fight in two world wars, and grateful the country and the cause of civilisation were to have them.

Doubtless some of the “snowflake” generation are feeble; equally, others are doubtless brave, have an ethic of public service, seek a challenge or even an adventure, long to be removed from the cotton wool wrapping into which society routinely inserts them, and to do something demanding application, gumption and an element of sacrifice.

For the same reasons, it is quite right that the Armed Forces welcome teenage boys and girls as well. Even if they don’t make a lifelong career out of military service, they can learn trades and a mastery of self that will make them far more valuable to most employers than the average graduate from a non-vocational course at a former polytechnic.

The police’s initiative should remind politicians of the value of maximising the potential of young people – not all of whom are academic, but many of whom can master technological and mechanical skills best taught through apprenticeship schemes. Indeed there are professions, such as accountancy and the work of solicitors, that were traditionally taught under articles rather than requiring a three-year drinking course at a new university.

A century ago we assumed all but a moneyed elite would end up working at the age of 14 or 16 and would spend the first few years learning their business; now we assume all but the most stupid will end up in higher education. A sensible society offers opportunities to all its youngsters according to their aptitudes and does not pigeonhole them. The police have taken a valuable lead in this, and others should follow.

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