Wednesday’s Got Issues: Education counts for nothing.

As I’m typing today’s post I’m listening to BBC 5 Live’s unemployment debate, broadcast this morning. It is difficult to decide whether it’s more or less depressing to hear that so many other people are going through the same thing as me, graduates and others searching for jobs over a period of months and years to no avail. A number of people are discussing the utter uselessness of job centres, and I have been reaffirmed in my decision not to sign on – it was repeatedly said that job centres have no idea how to deal with graduates. I think the main reason for this has to be the preconceived idea that going to university is an ironclad guarantee of a well paid job, it seems that job centres are equipped to deal with the uneducated, and even then they’re useless. Ever since I can remember a degree has been a non-negotiable part of my life. I never thought about any other options, university was always the plan. I enjoyed my education and was generally placed in the top sets, so it seemed like a natural progression: if you are thought of as smart, you go to university. I wonder if the next generation will think the same, factoring in the astronomical rise in tuition fees, and I envy them. The teenagers of today are becoming more exposed to the availability of apprenticeships and training programmes that offer a cheaper and more stable alternative, as degrees become less of a certain route into satisfactory employment. They are much more aware of their options than I ever was.

Admittedly, my degree is not the best foundation for a vocation. A 2:1 in European Literature and Cultural Studies provided me with excellent skills in researching and persuasive writing, and my year abroad in New Zealand left me with a brilliant ability to adapt and problem solve the most trying of situations. But friends of mine who studied Geology are currently looking at jobs in exotic places with a starting salary of £75000, while I am left to apply for 12 month internships in which my only wage is expenses of £5 a day. And that is the one thing that the debate has not touched on, the rise in vacancies described as internships or work experience, in which you are expected to do a job for nothing. A recent movement discussed on theunitlist.com (one of the many jobsites that I visit multiple times every day), has highlighted the exploitation of companies who use people desperate for experience, yet don’t reward them for the valuable contribution that they make. As I understand it, work experience is defined as a shadowing programme, you don’t actually undertake any significant duties but rather gain first hand knowledge of an industry. I accept that internships are different, but from what I’ve seen in vacancies advertised over the last 8 months, it is generally equivalent to the work of an admin/communications assistant, which in other vacancies warrants a salary upwards of £15000. During an internship which I undertook last year, during which I learnt a huge amount and thoroughly enjoyed myself, I received no renumeration whatsoever. And from what I saw, the majority of the legwork was done by the team of interns who assisted the permanent staff. That is not to say that the permanent staff did nothing, they worked very hard and took the time to teach us a lot of skills, however I don’t think that the festival that was organised would have been possible without the work of the interns, and yet we received very little.

I understand that internships are a necessary part of gaining experience, and I am so glad that I was able to undertake one myself, but there are times when the expectations seem a little unrealistic. Could someone explain to me exactly how I’m supposed to live in London and support myself for the entirety of a 12 month contract, in which I am only paid minimal expenses, or nothing at all? The only reason that I was able to support myself during my internship was that it was based in Cambridge, where I was able to stay at my family’s home. It is just not possible to manage for an entire year, in London, without at least minimum wage. A few months, yes, but not much longer than that. The bank of Mum and Dad will not extend that far.

So I am continuing with endless job applications, hoping that one day someone will see that I am employable, and maybe I’ll be one of the lucky ones. If not, it’s down to the job centre, degree in hand, where I expect I’ll be viewed with the same indifference that is extended to everyone who comes through the door.

 

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