Coffee shops can’t be dream jobs? Why not employment minister? – Feature

This is a piece I wrote for the Cornish and Devon Post Series January 30 edition. It came about after I read the Daily Mail‘s article on an interview with Employment Minister Esther McVey, and also the Guardian‘s comment is free article in response to it.

I felt she was looking down on coffee shops, even though both articles warped her quotes from what she actually said. But as my editor said, as a minister she should have been a lot wiser with her words. If money was no object to me, a coffee shop would actually be my dream business. Coffee shops are wonderful things.

When I took the initiative to write this piece and gain a local angle, I got the compliment equivalent of a high five from the editor. This version differs slightly from what was published as some of it was cut.


YOUNG people should be prepared to accept lowly jobs at coffee shops, the Minister for Employment Esther McVey has reportedly said in national newspapers.

In the three months prior to November, the rate of unemployment in the UK dropped by 7.1%, unemployment figures for people aged 16 to 24 also fell 1%.

In an interview with a national tabloid, Mrs McVey has reportedly said youth need ‘reminding they have to start at the bottom’, and people who want jobs will have to work hard for it and ‘be realistic with their abilities. They will have to take entry-level jobs as they can’t walk into their dream career’. She has also said young people ‘need to learn the basics, like turning up on time’.

Online, Mrs McVey’s interview has been construed as young people are ‘job snobs’ and coffee shops, as an example, are bottom rung jobs on the career ladder, which they do not wish to take up.

She said an entry level job was working at Costa, but then in “a couple of years’ time you might say, ‘I’d like to manage the area’ or might even want to run a hotel in Dubai.’

However, with the tourism fuelled industry of the Westcountry and the importance of independent town and village coffee shops as sources for work and social hubs, how have local business owners reacted?

Kathleen Robinson, owner of the Four Seasons of Camelford, offended by such comments, said: “All the time we get youth coming in and asking for jobs, especially during schools holidays and summer. We have a barista machine, which is expensive to run with real coffee beans and train people on, so I am offended anyone would think a coffee shop as a lowly job.

“It is okay for these London ministers to be saying such things, but they want to try and live in Cornwall for the winter and find work.”

She continued: “You get a lot of older people coming in, and there is always somebody they know to talk to visiting, you can’t say that for cafés in the city. It is a nice meeting place, and they always say how nice and friendly our staff are, so it doesn’t matter what age they are.”

Holsworthy based Greenfield Engineering Sheet Metal Ltd, currently has 10 young apprentices out of a workforce of 65.

Production manager Simon Walker said: “We have been impressed with all of them, one is up for his second award as an apprentice. They all have great mindsets for work, so I find it hard to agree with the reported comments by the minister. Youngsters are getting tarred with the same brush.”

Alexandra Stacey, owner of Waves coffee shop in Bude, said: “What is wrong with working in a coffee shop?
We have been relatively lucky with young people’s attitude to work and have in fact found over the last three years that it is the younger applicants that are more enthusiastic and willing to work. Obviously there are exceptions but mostly they are the ones who are dropping their CVs in and asking if there is any work and they don’t tend to mind the work or hours they are asked to do.  Not really sure how you can call a job in a coffee shop lowly, it’s hard work!

“How many jobs do coffee shops and food and drink outlets alike create throughout the South West alone? I am sure not everyone grows up and their dream is to work in a coffee shop, but it could be; it certainly helps pave the way for careers of their choosing, especially in our local area. Our young people mostly work in the gaps in between university, school or college, which helps them to fund their future and means they are here during our busy periods, so it works really well. I am regularly told by customers how nice it is to be served by young friendly staff.

“Our younger staff members have gone on to teach, practice law and continue their education. They have even met contacts through working here that have opened doors for them in their future. They are learning how to deal with the general public which isn’t always an easy task, but should help them greatly later on. However, it doesn’t have to just be a stop gap it can also be a career in itself, there are always opportunities to work in the food and drink industry and apprenticeships widely available for those who want to continue.”

Chairman of Launceston Chamber of Commerce Vicky Geach said: “The high street has been suffering since the economic downturn, and in Launceston people have had to cut jobs, for the Minister of Employment to say if you can’t get a proper job get one on the high street, it is not a good statement. The statement has no substance and hasn’t been thought through.

As a coffee shop owner, Ms Geach said: “These comments have made a minefield. If you did a degree, in say, quantum physics, and you can’t get a job, it would be my inclination to get any job, but there are only so many coffee shops. However, if I have vacancies it goes to the person best qualified. It is not always the highly educated that are most suitable for a café role.

“But if people don’t want to work in coffee shops, should we be paying tax to pay for their benefits?”
Local members of parliament are glad to see the drop in unemployment in the area, but disagree with the comments towards youth attitude to finding work.

MP for Torridge and West Devon Geoffrey Cox said: “The reduction in youth unemployment is an extremely welcome sign, with more and more jobs being created due to the recovering economy. I am particularly pleased to see the reduction in figures in Torridge and West Devon from 7.2% in December 2012 to 4.8% in December 2013, as it can be more difficult in rural areas such as ours as there are fewer options available.

“I certainly don’t buy into the idea that young people don’t want to work and aren’t prepared to work hard to achieve success, and I think that the continuing reduction clearly demonstrates this. It is also reflective of the recovering economy which is a result of the strong hold the current Government has on public finances.”

Nicky Luke, Head of Talent Development at Unlocking Cornish Potential, a graduate recruitment site, deals with the issues of graduate unemployment every day: “Very occasionally we see graduates who are absolutely set on pursuing a career in a particular industry sector or job type; having invested both finances and time in their degree studies- this is understandable. However, very rarely do we see a graduate who will pursue that career at the cost of all other options.  It is important to appreciate that careers are like a series of stepping stones and very few young people will succeed in landing their dream job the first time.  In our experience, graduates are very open to exploring their potential in any job they undertake.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said: “The Minister was very clear that anyone, no matter what their background, should be able to achieve their potential and fulfill their career goals. Climbing the career ladder can take hard work and determination and gaining skills and experience is an important part of that journey.

“Creating jobs and getting people into employment are central to the Government’s economic plan to build a stronger, more competitive economy, so it is very encouraging news that there has been a record-breaking rise in employment over the last three months.”


For Cornish and Devon news, written by my colleagues and myself, visit


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