Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Graduating to the dole queue

Today's youth unemployment figures are out. The UK now has 1.016 million young people unable to find work. I look at the bright eager (sometimes) faces in my classes and wonder what's going to happen to them. Some are optimistic - and some watch the news.

It's so utterly depressing, and yet the political discourse seems so hostile. I watched Newsnight's discussion of this last night. A Tory minister sat there and told them all about temporary schemes, while the CEO of a profit-making 'training company' lectured them about polishing up CVs and making themselves employable.

She would, of course, suggest that the problem is something she's got rich fixing, but it's a lie. My students are employable. They're bright, thoughtful and desperate. The failing isn't some internal quality: it's structural. We've built an economy on low wages for jobs which tax-evading corporations can shift abroad at the drop of a subsidy. With 2.5m people unemployed, what chance will an inexperiences 21-year old have? The stories the studio guests told were so familiar from my own desultory attempts to find a job in the mid-90s. No experience, no job - but nobody is willing to give you experience. These kids were used to never receiving even an acknowledgement that an application has been received: news to the politicians, not to anybody else.

David Cameron's first job was in the Conservative Party's research department, secured after a phone call from someone in Buckingham Palace. After that, it was off to the PR department of Carlton Communications, a very poor TV company with a reputation for hiring well-connected Tories. Nice life for some…

One of the most pernicious schemes promoted by government is internships: working for free for a period to gain experience. Sounds nice, doesn't it? But internships are acquired through contacts, which gives an advantage to well-connected middle-class people, and working-class kids can't afford to do them, because months of unpaid labour means parental support for travel, food, accommodation, clothes and all the other things paid work usually provides - it's a scam to maintain inequality.

The other rip-off is the apprenticeship scheme: minimal wages while you learn a trade. Again, it's a great idea, and one of the backbones of vanished industrial life. But look closely, and we discover that supermarkets are rebranding shelf-stacking as 'apprenticeships', as a way to reduce the wages of the very poorest, while failing to pass on any meaningful skills. That strikes me as the very worst sort of cynicism.

I wish I could sound more optimistic. Yes, some people are doing degrees that may not add to the sum of human knowledge. Some don't work very hard. Some are unrealistic. But from what I see, most of my students are more aware of the challenges facing them than I was when I graduated. We need to find meaningful, lucrative work for everybody - not just the graduates but the millions who don't - or can't - go to university. Capitalism, based on the transfer of wealth from the poorest to the richest, just won't do it.


SpH said...

As someone who graduated with a first in a non-'Mickey Mouse' subject, has always worked (including whilst at uni) in dead-end, minimum wage jobs; was subsequently turned down for every job from barman (despite 8 years experience) to cleaner to graduate scheme; was unemployed for 5 months (and unable to claim a penny), and only now (with savings pretty much gone) has a part-time job - only procured through a friend of a friend who works there - which involves 12-hour shifts making coffee and just about keeps the bills paid (none of this mentions the 25k debt of uni or the spiral of stress and depression I'm just climbing out of)...It's hard not to feel just a little fucked over.

And d'you know the final slap in the face? I applied for a graduate scheme at the very same uni that I'd just spent three years and several thousand pounds studying for this great and useful degree at...and they didn't even dignify my application with so much as a rejection letter. Nothing. What they DO bother to write to me about is to spend thousands more studying for a Masters at their uni to 'enhance my prospects'. It's just inflation - 'Oh but if you want the ACTUAL good prospects, you need an MA' - after that it'll be an even bigger and more expensive carrot they fucking dangle.

By my creative and academic works (in and out of academia), I'm very accomplished (if I say so myself). By my CV, I'm a lost cause (if society says so). So fuck the lot of it, it's all a con. There's no way in this society for a natural creative/academic, none that'll allow me any kind of financial security anyway. I'm going back underground.

Dan said...

My experiences of unemployment: resisted going on the dole; got a job interview I thought I was nailed on for; realised halfway through said interview I didn't want the job as it wasn't what was advertised (which leads on to a rant about how useless job sites are); went on the dole; got thrown off the dole for going to a careers day; went back on the dole; recurring. In that time I've had three interviews out of somewhere either side of a hundred job applications. Bored of writing the things now.

I've got an internship in March. I don't like the idea of free labour and I know that by taking it I'm becoming part of the problem that will make internships flourish and screw over more young people, but the only reason I'm doing it is because it fills a gap in my CV - which, coincidentally, has nothing on it. I'll get £10 a day expenses for travel, lunch etc. and consideration for a full-time job at the end, but that's not going to happen, is it?

I am considering doing an MA - maybe in Creative Writing, maybe in Film - for two reasons. Firstly, I don't see many other options. Secondly, I am genuinely interested in the subjects. This sounds silly now, considering the position I'm in, but I never went to University with a career in mind, and I still think that's the right approach to education. At least I haven't come out expectant of anything. At the minute, all my eggs are in the basket of doing an MA, sucking up to the staff at whichever institution and trying to get a job out of it. But I've got to get on one first.

I've played around with the idea of teaching and applied for a few jobs in schools but, honestly, I'm not sure I could be arsed with a curriculum strangling both me and pupils. I never learnt best when forced or made to do something; I learnt best when I was inspired to go off and do my own thing, which is how I'd want to teach.

On a less me level, I recently watched that BBC3 Up For Hire thing. They were offering apprenticeships working in the stockroom in Argos and other menial jobs that only the desperate - ie. the young - would go for. Something worth noting about apprenticeships: most are level 3, which discounts people with degrees. Level 4 apprenticeships are for 'us' but there are fewer of them, which makes thinking about or looking at apprenticeships a waste of time. The conclusion drawn from the show seemed to be 'if you can't get a job, why not make your own?' which was helpful from a show aimed at helping and offering advice to young people. I can only imagine the amount of Two Pints LTD's and Well Good fast food vans that have sprung up around the country.

I'm not depressed or upset about being unemployed yet, though the fortnightly signing on is pretty grim. But in terms of paid employment things don't look like getting much better.

The Plashing Vole said...

What can I say? What a terrible waste of human potential. Our political leaders have ceded all power to the bond markets and we're therefore screwed. Any government schemes are just a distraction to make them look authoritative.