A New Life In Australia: Dream Or Reality?

Straited 'plane sky (small).jpgYoung professionals have always wanted spread their wings. But why are some workers outside London more willing to up roots to Australia, than they are even to try life in their own U.K. metropolis – or, come to that, in Cornwall if they want surfing and sun or in the Higlands if they want space? The distant unknown, it seems, is a more attractive dream for the future than the anything closer to home.
Strange how people often feel ‘safer’ opting for the completely unknown, rather than for the semi-familiar. Two or three times this week I’ve been chatting to young public sector professionals and skilled trades people around my patch (northern England) who’ve announced they fancy a new life in Australia.

When quizzed a bit more, the reasons for this option usually run as
1. it’s warmer and sunnier (indisputable, of course…. but it can be pretty humid too);
2. there are more ‘opportunities’ there (Yes, but that could be because loads of young Australian professionals are over here); and
3. it’s ‘boring’ here in the U.K. (What, all of it?)
Now, far be it from me to talk anyone out of an adventure – I went to Arizona on an American Field Service International Scholarship, for a full year and all on my own, at the ripe old age of seventeen – but I’m still a bit puzzled.
Why not London?
If I further enquire (because I’m curious, not because I want to dissuade) why these young people don’t want to try (say) London, I’m usually told it’s because Londoners are unfriendly and it’s a horrible, expensive, confusing place which you can’t get out of.
Well, some of my best friends live in London, I quite often work there, and I graduated from a London university. On the whole, I enjoy being there. It is a collection of some of the most historic ‘villages’ in the world, it has culture, it has cutting edge knowledge, it has huge parks…
But others’ hostile view of London does raise some interesting issues, such as: how do folk ‘know’ that a land they have never even visited isn’t also confusing, unfriendly or expensive? How can they be so confident that it’s a better place to be?
Or Cornwall or the Highlands?
Are these adventurers actually seeking a ‘new’ life when they leave the U.K., or, in fact, just a revamped version of the ‘previous’ one, with more excitement, freedom, challenges or whatever? And is this a realistic expectation in either event? Most people probably plan to take their current skills with them in their news lives, so they are in reality just trading locations (no harm in that).
If people want work and sunshine / space, why not Cornwall or the Highlands? Both are currently Objective One areas of the U.K., with plenty of incentives for skilled and entrepreneurial people, and both have space enough for everyone. They offer beaches, inexpensive housing, a more relaxed life-style; and they leave the option of experimentation without a huge commitment. In fact, on reflection, I’d probably suggest they be explored as ‘practice runs’ before taking the drastic step of crossing the equator for a permanent change of home.
It’s all in the marketing
These ideas of London and Oz are probably both wide of the mark. People are people everywhere, and, even allowing for deep cultural differences, how you find them usually depends far more on your own personal approach than on any other factor.
Which brings us to marketing and image…. Australia is openly eager to draw some of our brightest and best to its shores; and no problem there – we do the same to them, and, perhaps sometimes less fairly, to other countries too. But whilst London seems to emphasise the requirements of the knowledge economy, Australia also overtly seeks to draw those with technical and applied skills.
London as a city rarely does anything about actively attracting young public sector professionals from other parts of the U.K. Yes, individual organisations do this, but not London as a city in
its own right. It doesn’t really need to; but perhaps young people need it?
Conversely, the UK ‘regions’ all set themselves up in opposition to the metropolis. The very brightest of all already go to London in their droves (London has a far higher concentration of very highly qualified people than any other part of the U.K.); but little is done directly to encourage exchange and flow between different U.K. regions. And to us in the ‘regions’ London often looks like the Opposition.
Shared experience has value
It would be a very positive move if we encouraged young professionals to know their counterparts elsewhere in the U.K. Perhaps the problem here is that often only as they become more senior are they expected to attend conferences outside their own regional ‘comfort zone’, meeting other workers in more distant locations and learning how different people see the world. Indeed, for many that never happens, or else it’s too late by then for them to develop a fresh perspective.
Until a couple of decades ago many undergraduates chose to study as far away from home as possible; but that was at a time when a far smaller percentage of our young people went on the higher education. The sheer numbers of students these days makes this option impossible to finance by state grants; there’s been a relocation of post-school study to home ground as a trade-off for more people (of all ages) doing it.
So when are young people today getting their experience away from home territory? How can they come to see the opportunities across the U.K.? Maybe here’s a theme to return to another day.
Add your comments below…

Posted on November 19, 2005, in Equality, Diversity And Inclusion, Knowledge Ecology And Economy, Regeneration, Renewal And Resilience, The Journal. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. A couple of things to add to your comments, if I may:
    1. There’s too many people in London already – the UK is terribly London centric already (as I know you’ll agree Hilary!). It’s a problem of supply and demand. Businesses need to be willing to invest outside the South East and spread the country’s wealth around to change how people perceive their opportunities. Quality of life in the UK is fine if your standard of living is decent.
    2. People need to stop being idealistic in thinking that life is easier elsewhere. Without wishing to sound fatalistic, life isn’t easy anywhere. There’s still work and relationships to manage wherever you are. Discontented people who think going to Oz is the answer are deluding themselves!

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