Flow of Ideas
Learning in the Earthworks of Capital: The JCB Academy


Glenn Rikowski, London, 31st March 2007


Introduction

JCB manufactures loaders, excavators, telescopic handlers, rough terrain forklift trucks, and high speed tractors. No doubt those living in the UK will find a JCB machine at a road works somewhere nearby. Indeed:

“In every corner of the world you'll find a JCB machine. JCB is one of the world's top four manufacturers of construction equipment. We employ over 6,000 people on 4 continents” [1].

Already established as a partner working with schools in the UK (see JCB, 2007b, p.3), it is perhaps not surprising that JCB has now decided to get involved in New Labour’s Academy schools programme. The company has decided to set up its own Academy (Boone, 2007; Ford, 2007). However, it is the way in which JCB is getting involved and the nature of its proposed Academy in Rocaster, Staffordshire that is particularly interesting. JCB seeks to get its hands dirty in the schooling aspect of what I have called the ‘social production of labour power in capitalism’ (in Rikowski 2004).


Moving the Earth for the JCB Academy

The JCB Academy plan is set around converting and extending a Grade II-listed building, Tutbury Mill, an 18th-century mill built by Richard Arkwright. An atrium will connect the refurbished mill with a new building. There is an artist’s impression of the proposed building at JCB (2007b). The Academy will cost Ł20 million for 540 14-19 year old students. It will open in September 2009.

It will also be eco-friendly, as:

“Proposals include reviving the mill’s water race and installation of a modern water turbine to create energy; recycling waste timber packaging from JCB factories by turning it into biomass chips to provide heating; collecting rainwater to flush toilets and using solar panels to heat water” (JCB, 2007b, p.1).

Unlike most Academies, the JCB one will not replace any existing, failing schools: a key feature of the rationale of New Labour’s Academy programme. The Press Release for the proposed JCB Academy claims that it is:

“A concept embraced by 4 Local Authorities, [and] the JCB Academy represents a creative and strategic response to the needs and aspirations of local young people and the region” (JCB, 2007a).

There is evidence that some local councillors have spoken out in favour of the JCB Academy too (see Ford, 2007, p.2), and Janet Dean, MP for Burton, has argued for the Academy (in Sloan, 2007), saying that it would take in students from a wide area of Derbyshire and Staffordshire. However, some local head teachers question whether the Academy will have benign effects on their schools. For example, Alexander Timms, head teacher at the Paulet High School in Stapenhill, argued that:

“I think it’s a misuse of public money. Academies were set up to replace failing schools and we don’t have any in our area” (in Sloan, 2007, p1.).

Other local head teachers criticised JCB’s plans on the grounds that it would involve some kids travelling for over 90 minutes to school, and that the Academy would draw ‘talented, technically minded youngsters away from their schools’ (Ibid.).


JCB’s Labour Power Strategy

What is unusual about the JCB Academy is that the sponsors see it as nurturing directly a source of labour power. Previous Academies set up by philanthropists have not had an overt ‘gain’ agenda; though various of these have been involved in the cash-for-honours scandal, or have been castigated for scams such as awarding contracts for school services to companies of their kith and kin – or even to their own companies. But Jon Boone of the Financial Times gets to the root of JCB’s motivations and the trailblazing nature of the JCB Academy:

“It is the first of the government’s flagship “academies” that he been backed by a leading company with the specific purpose of boosting the quality of its own specific workforce” (Boone, 2007).

Thus: public funds are to be given to a company to develop its own prospective labour power. However, JCB plays safe by adding that the Academy has a wider brief:

“Paul Pritchard, head of the JCB academy project, said the company had been pushed into the education business after struggling to recruit enough skilled young workers: ‘As a growing company we need young people who are interested and excited about manufacturing and engineering, but we are simply not getting them …” (Ibid.).

So it seems that the JCB Academy will be about developing youth labour power not just for itself but also the manufacturing fraction of capital and the engineering sector of capital [2].

The importance JCB gives to developing work attitudes and a ‘can do / will do’ outlook in young people (see JCB, 2007c) fits in with findings from recruitment studies that place work attitudes as the most significant group of attributes sought in young people in the recruitment process (Rikowski, 2001). As I have said elsewhere:

“Today … national states are involved in the social production of labour-power for competitive advantage. This takes place through schooling and training, attempting to enhance the labour-power attributes of potential workers …” (Rikowski, 2004, p.573).

Yet it is rare for the state to fork out cash for developing the labour power of specific capitals, specific companies. Will JCB get away with it? Will other companies want the same treatment?


Conclusion This is a dream come true: the capitalist state pays for labour power development for a particular company. No doubt JCB cannot believe its luck! Or perhaps it’s a harbinger of where New Labour wants to go next with its schools policy.


Notes

[1] From the JCB UK web site at: http://www.jcb.co.uk/

[2] For more on fractions and sectors of capital, see Rikowski (2001).


References

Boone, J. (2007) JCB aims to unearth engineering potential with state school project, Financial Times, 30th March, p.3.

Ford, L. (2007) JCB academy to teach teenage engineers, The Guardian (Education), 29th March, online at: http://education.guardian.co.uk/newschools/story/0,,2045738,00.html

JCB (2007a) The JCB Academy – the journey so far, Press Release, JCB UK, online at: http://www.jcb.co.uk/jcbacademy/jcbacademy.aspx

JCB (2007b) Plans Unveiled for JCB’s Multi Million Pound Eco-Friendly Academy, JCB UK: http://www.jcb.co.uk/jcbacademy/pressreleases/PlansUnveiledForJCB.pdf

JCB (2007c) The JCB Academy Ethos, JCB UK, online at: http://www.jcb.co.uk/jcbacademy/AcademyEthos.pdf

Rikowski, G. (2001) Education for Industry: A Complex Technicism, Journal of Education and Work, Vol.14 No.1, pp.29-49.

Rikowski, G. (2004) Marx and the Education of the Future, Policy Futures in Education, Vol.2 Nos. 3 & 4, pp.565-577, online at: http://www.wwwords.co.uk/pdf/viewpdf.asp?j=pfie&vol=2&issue=3&year=2004&article=10_Rikowski_PFEO_2_3-4_web&id=195.93.21.134

Sloan, T. (2007) ‘Grave concerns’ at JCB academy plan, Burton Mail, 27th March, at: http://www.burtonmail.co.uk/detail.asp?id=7360870&cat=General%20News

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