A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46


The Employment of boys in Six Coalfields

As a factual background to this inquiry into opinions on coal-mining as a job, a record was made of the kinds of work already being done by boys of working age in the families interviewed. This record made it possible to compare the jobs being done by boys in mining families and in non-mining families, and also acted as a starting point from which it was possible to proceed by easy stages to answer three vitally important questions:

(a) To what extent do parents try to decide on the jobs their boys shall do?

(b) How far are their wishes and those of the boys gratified? In other words, are the boys doing the jobs they wanted to do themselves or the jobs their parents wanted them to do?

(c) What kinds of work satisfy parents and boys most?

(i) The work now being done by the Boys

As might be expected, hardly any boys from non-mining families were employed in coal-mining, but a considerable proportion of the boys from mining families, (33%), were so employed, rather more than half in mining underground.

If the boys in mining are excluded, the main kinds of work followed by the other boys were labouring of various kinds; apprenticeships; semi-skilled jobs; errand boys, paper boys and shop assistants; and, to a lesser degree, factory machinists and clerks. Boys from mining families became labourers, errand boys and shop assistants rather more frequently than boys from non-mining families. 44% of the boys from mining families were in these jobs compared with 33% from non-mining families. On the other hand, boys from mining families became apprentices less freqently than boys from non-mining families.

A small proportion of the boys were unemployed at the time of the inquiry,(4%)

A comparison of the number of boys under 18 employed in the mining industry in 1945 and in 1938 + , suggests that to bring the proportion of boys employed up to the 1938 level it would be necessary to double the percentage of boys now employed. That is to say the proportion of boys recruited from non- mining families would have to be stepped up to 14% and the proportion of boys from mining families to 66%.


(ii) Parents wishes for their boys

On the whole, few parents had made plans for their boys while they were still at school, and a considerable proportion had no particular job in mind for their boys even when the time came for them to take up employment. The explanations offered by parents who had no plans for their boys were predominantly that the boy was too young or would choose for himself.

The parents who had made plans for their children while they were still at school, (roughly one in four), mainly wanted them to enter a trade, that is a skilled occupation, such as that of carpenter, electrician or mechanic because they considered there were good prospects and good pay attached to it, and also because they felt that a boy’s future was more secure if he had a trade. The few parents who wanted their children to enter mining said that they did so because of good pay and prospects and because they had relatives in the job. Confirmation of these views was obtained from interviews with school children, most of whom said that their mothers had not thought of any job for them, but when they had done so had thought most often of a trade.

The preceding paragraph would lead one to expect that boys in employment had largely chosen their own jobs, subject to the local demand for labour. This expectation is fulfilled. Almost half the boys in employment at the time of the inquiry were doing what their parents had had in mind for them, but nearly all of them had wanted to do the job themselves. The small proportion of boys who had wanted to enter mining but had not been allowed to do so was more than counterbalanced by the proportion of boys who had entered mining against their parents’ wishes. The majority of boys who had gone into occupations their parents had not wanted for them, had done so more frequently because there were no vacancies in the occupations they desired, than because they had chosen another job for themselves. There is no indication of either the father or the mother exerting the greater influence over the boys.

It would appear from an occupational analysis of parents wishes that mining is ranked with labouring and work as a shop assistant in undesirability as a career, since roughly similar proportions of boys in each category (approximately one in three), were not doing the kind of work their parents had had in mind for them. On the other hand, only one in six of the boys who were semi-skilled workers or apprentices were not doing the jobs their parents had intended for them.

It can be concluded that the prevailing labour situation and the boys' own wishes contribute more to the final decision on a job for the boy than the parents’ wishes in the matter, but that is not to say that so far as mining is concerned, parents’ views, expressed over many years, have not influenced the boys' opinions. It is conceivable that their discussions of mining have, in fact, enabled the boy to make up his own mind by providing the data on which he could do so. The fact that mining is ranked with unskilled work like labouring indicates that the pressing need of the moment is to convince parents that not only can it be a skilled job but also a trade in the sense in which they understand it, that is, a skill which will always be needed and can secure the future of the boy.

(iii) Boys’ wishes for themselves

Only a small proportion of schoolboys had no idea of the kind of work they wanted to do. The majority wanted to take up a trade largely because it interested them or because in their own opinion or that of their parents they displayed some special aptitude for it. To a lesser extent they mentioned good pay and good prospects and relatives in the job.

Some 6% of the schoolboys from mining families wanted to become miners. Since 33% of the boys from mining families are in the industry it is evident that unless schoolboys’ attitudes have altered in the last four years a considerable proportion either changed their minds about mining on leaving school or, as is more likely, found that there was no other job for them to do. If this is true it means that a considerable proportion of boys have entered mining against their will even in recent years. That, in itself, is a factor leading to discontent. It is possible, therefore, that a planned attempt to deal with this problem during training, and to show that there are good, solid reasons why a boy should consider mining as a promising job, would help the industry in the future.

The working boys interviewed were all in jobs outside mining, and only 1% expressed a preference for that industry. The majority confirmed that where they were doing a job that their mothers had wanted them to do they had also wanted to do it themselves. Those who were not doing the work their mothers had wanted for them put forward the same reasons for not doing so as were given by their mothers, that is to say, there were no vacancies in the selected occupation or they had chosen another job for themselves. Like their parents they thought that semi-skilled work and apprenticeships were the most desirable occupations, and labouring and work as a shop assistant least desirable.


(iv) Summary

7 % of the boys in non-mining families and 33% of the boys in mining families were employed in the mining industry at the time of the inquiry.

The boys from mining families who go outside the mining industry for job, more frequently enter unskilled work than boys from non-mining families.

Subject to the prevailing labour market and a high proportion of parents say that it is up to them to do so, 97% of the schoolboys and 99% of the working boys outside mining prefer some other occupation to the pits.

Skilled work is wanted in the main by both boys and parents, largely because pay and prospects are thought to be good and a trade means security.

Parents as frequently consider mining undesirable for their boys as they do labouring or work as a shop assistant or errand boy. It is emphasised that they must be persuaded that mining has the same possibilities for their boys as a trade.

It is suggested that a high proportion of boys enter mining unwillingly even under present conditions and that it would be of advantage to the industry if a special effort to deal with the problem were made during their training course.

[2] Ministry of Fuel & Power - Statistical Digest, 1945.

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