Seems to have hit the news something fierce the past few days, and the media has successfully trotted out a steady stream of ‘the young unemployed’ to exemplify the current situation. So far an incredibly jaundiced view has been painted; unsympathetic examples of teenagers and folks in their twenties who are ‘waiting for the right job’, and in fear of ‘doing something that wouldn’t make me happy’, whilst experts from industry harp on about how it is essentially no fault of their’s that this apparently work-shy group are unqualified, inexperienced and a bit grotty to look at.
This has caused some anger to seep from my normally calm exterior.
(Before I start I want to make clear that I am not even going to attempt to cover all the angles on this, and will only be speaking from personal experience. There will be many educational, social and economic factors that I will not discuss as I simply don’t have the knowledge or the time to do the justice. This absence should in no way be seen as lessening their importance.)
I graduated with a degree in English Literature in 2008, just as
the recession (sorry) The Recession! had merrily poleaxed the world economy. It was pretty damn scary. The competition for the few jobs that held the remotest interest was intense to start off with, and what oppurtunities that were about dried up with a worrying speed. The job papers visibly shrank in size from one week to the next.
I was unemployed for seven months, and count myself lucky that it was only for that long. I had decent qualifications and a fair bit of work-experience under my belt. And yet I applied to over sixty different jobs ranging from supermarkets to phone-jockeying, and received only two rejection letters. The vast majority didn’t even bother to reply.
I trekked to the various agencies with my naive little CV, thinking that I could at least get a few hours filing some paper work on minimum wage somewhere. By the third one the picture was made pretty clear. I scuttle in and ask if I could put my name down, the suited woman behind the desk gives me a world-weary look over her half-rim specs, then reaches down behind her desk and comes up with a over-stuffed ring binder, visibly bulging with papers. I am told that this file contains all those people with the essentially the same CV as me. My name would be put at the back of this file. Did I still want to give it a try?
By encouraging the attainment of degrees (a good thing for so many other reasons, by the way) by an ever increasing proportion of the populace, past and present Governments have diluted their value. Employers see ever-increasing numbers of people with such qualifications and consequently lower the level of jobs that now require degree level certificates to apply for them.
But the good news is that as long as people are in education, getting into massive amounts of debt and generally doing their best, they are not unemployed, they don’t count in the jobless figures. The longer young people can be encouraged to stay in education the better it is for the employement statistics. The more the merrier.
As a result graduates have to expand their CV’s to a much greater extent than previously in an effort to compete for jobs that would not have been considered graduate level a decade ago. People stay on to post-graduate level who might not otherwise have wanted to, racking up more debt, in the hopes of setting themselves apart from the crowd.
I personally was able to volunteer for various charities and pick up an IT qualification paid for by the Job Centre. This eventually wrangled me an interview for a job which stated quite clearly that I required only two A-levels to apply for. There were a dozen applicants, eight were graduates.
In a shrinking job market this places more pressure on those young people who do not have higher qualifications. They are caught between a rock and a hard place - competing against older individuals who are as desperate for work as everyone else, but importantly with oodles of experience, and against other young people who are more qualified than they are.
The emphasis must be on the word ‘young’, which goes hand-in-hand with ‘inexperienced’ - without being able to get on the job ladder as a result of this lack of previous knowledge, people stagnate and end up perpetuating existing problems.
I was incredibly lucky to have been in a position where I had no dependants to support and no debts to pay off. As a result I could be unemployed for a time and spend it expanding on the ‘ol CV. But so so many ‘young people’ do not have that option.
The recession has screwed over a lot of people, but the massive unemployment figures amongst ‘young people’ should not be attributed to any sense of generic youthful idleness or un-earned pride. A massive number of contributing factors have led up to this point and when the house of cards inevitably fell down these factors were left to blink in the cold light of day.
Going to stop now. Jams out.