Only very rarely do I single out individual pieces from the array of goodies available on Reaction. It is up to you, the readers, to decide which of our writers hits the spot on any given day. On this occasion, however, I feel the need to point you in the direction of the latest contributions by Maggie Pagano, our executive editor, and Robert Fox, a pal from the days of typewriters and still one of the best defence correspondents in the business.

Their message is essentially the same.

In her piece Rapper Professor Green shines the light on White Working Class Men and the skills gap, Pagano, a leading business journalist, looks at the increasingly yawning disparity between the demands of industry and commerce in the UK in relation to jobs and the supply of properly educated and equipped workers within what is still, however narrowly, the nation’s largest demographic.

“More than two thirds of all manufacturers and service companies,” she writes, “say they can’t fill a third of the jobs they have on offer. The shortage is not just at the high-end technical staff such as design and development engineers either. There are also not enough people with foreign language skills needed to market and sell the products being made.

“Industry also needs more manual, semi-skilled labour: bricklayers, more drivers, more electricians. As the new Army adverts show, there is also a chronic shortage of youngsters wanting to go into the services.

“And for once, Brexit cannot be blamed. This is a crisis of Britain’s own making, and a crisis that is due to a massive failure of successive Labour and Conservative governments, policy-makers, educators at schools and colleges, careers advisors, the business community itself and, indeed, parents.”

We need to hear this more (which is why I am repeating it today). Britain is not going down the tubes because of Brexit, it is heading drainwards because of our own obstinate refusal to rectify a problem that has beset our country for the last 50 years.

Robert Fox, looking not at the general picture but at the state of the nation’s armed forces, agrees. Elaborating here on Maggie’s reference to army recruitment, he reports a worsening shortage of suitable candidates from within both the ethnic minority communities and what is traditionally the largest cohort, young white males aged between 16 and 19. Put simply, there are not enough young British males capable of becoming efficient and effective soldiers. Nor are there nearly enough trained engineers to fill the specialist ranks – a shortage that, as Fox observes, is currently hitting the Navy particularly hard.

Without an adequate supply of skilled workers, industry and commerce, including the ever-growing services sector, cannot hope to maintain the UK as one of the world’s most dynamic economies. For the last 15 years, and arguably for much longer than that, we have plugged the gap with immigrants and guest workers. If you think that all East Europeans are plumbers and electricians, think again. They do much more than that, in the City of London, in our ports, in transport, in manufacturing and in agricultural production. They also prop up the NHS at every level, from doctors and surgeons to first-responders and hospital porters.

Without them, Britain’s position, which is already slipping, could quickly become parlous. They have the schooling and the skills we desperately lack. Only when we have radically reformed the education and training of our own young people – a process that if we started today would not be complete for at least ten years – can we hope to stand on our own two feet as an advanced nation. Until then, we need all the imported skills we can find, not just from Europe but from across the world.

The depleted state of our armed forces is especially marked. At a time when the Government is – absurdly – trying to cut numbers to the bone, neither the Army, Navy or Air Force can find the young people it needs to maintain and deploy the complex weaponry that, in any case, we cannot apparently afford. Our existing soldiers are ill-equipped, demoralised and lacking the conviction that what they do is either possible or useful. The Navy doesn’t have anything like the number of trained men and women to understand and deploy its sophisticated ships. Having decided to decomission HMS Ocean, our only assault ship, the MoD is now reported to be considering the sale of our two amphibious warfare ships, Albion and Bulwark. Why? For two reasons. One, we can’t afford them; two we need their expert crews to work the controls of our two new aircraft carriers, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince of Wales.

As for the RAF, not only is it sadly lacking in aircraft and spares, it doesn’t have nearly enough trained technicians to service existing planes and systems, let alone those that – assuming the money can be found – are due to enter service in the next three years.

There is an answer to the problems highlighted by Pagano and Fox, and it is staring us in the face. Britain needs to stop talking about vocational education and apprenticeships and instead has to put billions of extra pounds (no less) as a matter of urgency into schools and technical colleges in every corner of the country. In Just as important, subsidies or tax-relief must also be found to enable industry itself to restore meaningful apprenticeships to something like the level of the 1950s.

It is not enough to assume that teenagers who can work an iPhone are the hope of tomorrow. Using a device and understanding it are two very different things. We need young people who are at home with machinery and electronics and know how things work under the bonnet. We need people who can develop new systems and improve those already in place. We need linguists, plumbers, welders, electricians, mechanics, computer programmers and other IT specialists. We need soldiers who understand one end of a gun from the other and sailors who know how to drive a ship and repair it when things go wrong.

Let us be clear. The skills gap is wide and growing wider by the day. More than a million newly skilled workers are needed today. More will be required tomorrow. Ministers and Opposition spokespersons are glib when it comes to recognising the need. They are not so good when it comes to providing the necessary cash and other incentives to make a difference. This has to change. If Britain is to keep up with the competition and play a role in global security consistent with our ambitions, there have to be the people capable of carrying out the necessary work.

Fifty years from now, it may be that we will all have nothing but time on our hands as robots do most of the work currently required of humans. Until then, if we hope to prosper, we need to buckle down and acquire the necessary skills for the 21st century. And we need to start now. Those Poles and Slovaks – even those pesky French – won’t be around forever.