A young man of my acquaintance asked for some advice yesterday. It transpires that he has recently been laid off from his job (a shame - it had seemed promising), and he was now seriously considering joining the Army with a view to spending four years there, soaking up as much training as possible, and seeing how that would set him up. What did I think?
Well, what I really thought was: oh crap, don't ask me!
But that's not a terribly helpful answer. So, what answer to really give? It's not a clean-cut issue. There are some very significant pros and cons:
Con: Let's not dance around it: the massive, massive downside is the risk. We've lost too many men in Afghanistan, and we're still going to be there for another little while. It looks like there may yet be some sort of a conflict with Iran, which could be very nasty indeed. There's all sorts of sabre-rattling going on over the Falkland Isles. There have been cut-backs in funding of our armed forces, but there don't seem to have been many cut-backs in the demands we place on them.
(Plus, the Tories have traditionally not been averse to making use of our armed forces. So I wouldn't want to assume that the planned withdrawal from Afghanistan implies a reduced risk.)
Pros: The Army is a solid, reputable employer. The pay is decent, the discipline would probably suit this young man pretty well, and the training that is on offer would stand him in good stead. I daresay the experience would do him a world of good (subject to the con...).
And, again, let's not dance around it: the opportunities available for young men in Falkirk, and especially young men without much by way of recognised training or qualifications, are painfully slim. Too many jobs require formal qualifications (or, rather, there are too few that don't), and that's going to get worse rather than better. Faced with several years of bouncing from one job 'opportunity' to another, picking up bits and pieces here and there but no recognised qualifications... the prospect of four years of solid employment looks really attractive.
(Of course, all of this assumes he could get in, which is by no means guaranteed.)
Ultimately, all I could advise him to do was to think about it very carefully. He asked me what I would do in his position, but I couldn't really answer that - my path was always fairly clear from school, to uni, to career; I never faced the problems facing too many of our young people today.
It was flattering to be asked my advice. I hope I was able to help, even if only a little. But, damn, I wish he hadn't!