High Street Trends, LMI and Terry Pratchett

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Chris Targett
8 October 2016

Having watched the Mary Portas programme “What Britain Buys” on Channel Four this week and recent reports from other sources I was struck by a couple of key statements from the programme. This included the reversal in the fortune of book shops, with a rise in physical books and drop in digital e-books, plus a growth in Vinyl sales. A key factor in this was how business models had adapted to the impact of technology on both of these areas, turning these products into something which are desirable, and have aesthetic and experiential value; as described by the publishers in the programme and backed up by recent reports of consumers buying vinyl to have and to hold (not listen to).

This was in contrast to the LMI from pre-2015 mentioned in the programme. It was predicted by leading analysts of the time that, bookshops and record shops were set to close. This was backed by a statement from Waterstones on the programme, who talked about how close they were to closure and collapse as an industry.

These led me to wonder, what does this mean for how we use LMI within careers work? I suppose there are two elements to consider, one is that we cannot predict with certainty what may happen to an industry. This is quite a glib analysis though, because we were able to predict the decline (so the data was right); what we didn’t see was the growth. It is this understanding which has the biggest impact on how we use LMI. This surprise in growth echoed through the programme, whether they were looking at bowls made by Denby to the decline of pubs and growth of craft beers. It reinforced my awareness that students need to be ready for the unpredictable nature of the labour market. I can recall a discussion with colleagues five years ago about the decline of the high street, instead what we are seeing is a change; not the death of the high street.

Our stories of success for vinyl and books however aren’t the same in every country or situation, as there is a more detailed picture here. I was watching this programme as it made statements of growth in vinyl whilst reading an online report of the closure of “Other Music” in New York; this is poles apart in terms of what we know about the industry. I was wondering, how can there be reports of growth when, I can only reminisce with friends about the bespoke music shops of my teenage years which no longer exist (as typified in the film High Fidelity)? What we can see is that the labour market is not static, nor is it uniform across countries and counties. Its impact on the related industries is also hard to gauge as further reports reveal. What is clear, is that what is happening in one town isn’t replicated in another.

We must situate LMI in the context that students are mobile and in some cases will drive or move to find work. Our concept of economic migration is not just a term used in reports referring to migration from one country to another, it happens in this country; from town to town, region to region. It is for this reason we need LMI which covers a picture that is wider than the local areas we work in. When students ask where they are more likely to find work in a particular occupation, whether Brighton or Bristol, we must have a tool which can tell them where the work is predicted to be and where it isn’t.

We also need to help them become smarter at unlocking and understanding why and how the labour market changes; including how skills used in one area can be used in another. There is however a message of hope we can gain from the above programme. Just because a sector is in decline, it doesn’t mean it is certain to crash.

Perhaps, this is the truthful message behind the LMI we love. We can never be sure what the future may hold; in the words of the late Sir Terry Pratchett from the book Mort, “Scientists have calculated that the chances of something so patently absurd actually existing are millions to one. But magicians have calculated that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten.”

We can never say a student may never have a chance… we can only give them the odds (once we have them).

Written by: Chris Targett

This blog was first published on the CXK Blog on Tuesday 10th May 2016

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