News Ian O'Doherty

Friday 29 August 2014

Why all the bile? Did Jackie hit a nerve?

Published 06/06/2014 | 02:30

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Jackie Lavin

My, our third level graduates are a bunch of precious little snowflakes, aren't they?

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Of course it has always been the prerogative of university students to play the victim card and when they're not doing that they're asserting their superiority over the rest with all the intellectual weight that a Masters in Middle English bestows. But in the wake of the fury caused by Jackie Lavin's comments on Prime Time the other night, seldom has the phrase 'the students are revolting' been quite so apt.

Maybe it's the changing of the cultural guard, where everybody now feels entitled to everything and resents any criticism or slight. On the other hand, maybe it's a sign that we finally have a generation that are prepared to stand up for themselves. That's hardly something we should be moaning about – passive acquiescence and muted grumbling have always been the Irish way, so it'd be nice to think that we have a bunch of young people who won't be trampled on.

More likely, however, is that the furious response to her remarks are a combination of the two – an unwillingness to take criticism lying down coupled with an in-bred arrogance that means all opponents must be shouted down.

As you know, Lavin stuck her perfectly preserved nose into a hornets' nest earlier this week when she declared that she had worked with some of today's graduates and, in her experience, "many of them didn't have a clue."

Cue backlash. Cue hysteria. Cue insults and digs at Lavin's recent business travails. Cue everybody missing the point.

Lavin and her partner, Bill Cullen, may make for easy targets of mockery – God knows, I've thrown the odd barb their direction in my time.

But their policy of working hard and living it large has always owed more to the American philosophy of the self-made man (or woman) who enjoys spending their money.

In Ireland, that is enough to provoke jealousy when things are going well and spiteful delight when it all goes pear-shaped – as has happened with the couple in recent times.

Lavin's comments that some graduates haven't the foggiest about real work in the real world should have been greeted with universal approval because it is simply, demonstrably and incontrovertibly true.

That's not a dig at people who are leaving college, that's a simple fact of life. After all, how else do graduates get experience? Nobody would look at a young professional footballer who has just graduated from their club's academy and assume that they are ready to start in the first team.

Let's put it this way, I can't imagine any apprentice (pardon the pun) footballer getting the hump with Roy Keane if he said that they hadn't a clue about the game at the top level. Yet the negative reaction to her perfectly reasonable comments came thick and fast, with the emphasis on 'thick.'

One of my favourite responses came from the disgruntled graduate who harrumphed: "For a person who was involved in a number of failed business enterprises she has a hard neck slagging off the quality of the graduates who worked for her."

Ah yes, she is a woman who has had "a number of failed business enterprises" and, as a result, she has "a hard neck". Well, the last time anyone checked, having a hard neck is the most basic pre-requisite for anybody in business.

Also, whatever one may think about the couple's previously opulent and ostentatious lifestyle, having a "number" of failed businesses simply proves that when they get kicked in the teeth, they dust themselves off, lick their wounds and get back in the game as quickly as they can.

Having a hard neck is not taught in colleges and this is where the old canard about the university of life kicks in. Because it doesn't matter how book-smart you are if you can't take a bollocking in the work place.

And Lavin, as she has demonstrated, is well able to administer such a thing.

But what she did on Prime Time was simply speak some common sense – too many people are doing too many degrees that have little application in the real world. Sure, Mammy and Daddy might be proud that their pride and joy has an 'ology', as Maureen Lipman used to say.

But that is of little use once you get into many of today's work environments.

It's easy to mock students and it's also unfair – I know some of them who are so broke they can barely make it from term to term.

But the fact that so many of her detractors were so quick to accuse her of being "unhelpful" and "negative" show just how disconnected from reality these kids are.

Because it is not Lavin's job to ensure her recently appointed graduates feel especially loved or respected or valued.

That would be nice, of course, and nobody wants a boss who is up your ass all day, every day. But these things are earned over time and don't come just because you have a degree.

But if the people who squawked with outrage are so prickly that they can't handle a vague generalisation without feeling personally affronted, what hope do they have when they find that their superiors just want them to turn up on time and do the job with the minimum of fuss and bother?

We all know that most modern bosses will check your social media pages when they are interviewing you for a gig.

Well, for all those outraged students who got the hump with Lavin and went on Facebook to slam her?

Sorry peeps – you've just proved you're not ready for a job. Or the real world.

Ian O'Doherty

Irish Independent

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