Sunday, October 30, 2011

The student workforce

I am currently training towards a profession, nursing, where I can look forward to a career in health care in one form or another right up until I retire. Before making that career choice, however, I was one of the thousands of UK students finding themselves in a position of completing a degree with no real career in front of me. I spent my first degree working every job I could, from reception to managing a theatre and even working in research. Then I graduated, took the first job I could get with my university as nowhere else would take me, and was promptly made redundant.

I was just reading an article about the unpaid internships that are increasingly becoming the norm and got to thinking about how the employers of the UK think about university graduates. I regularly see circular/bulk-emails with 'job' opportunities telling me it will be "great experience" and I'm starting to smell a rat. Now, don't misinterpret this - a lot of graduates are missing the basic job skills needed to succeed in any industry: communication skills, admin skills, IT skills. Many of the jobs I see offer those skills and will fill a CV gap.

But they won't get you a job.

An unpaid intern is, to my mind, the same as an unpaid placement student. It's a total piss take by a business that wants to get something for nothing. A friend of mine worked for a company for her placement year. As it was a placement and they were training her she wasn't paid, which is sensible if you consider she was there to be taught and to learn. As the company consisted of only a few other (paid) employees and the owner, however, she soon ended up taking on projects unsupported, working as a salesperson, administrator for her colleagues, and occasionally accountant. I see how that could be considered good for her CV but she was doing the work of an employee with none of the money. And it's fine because she was 'on placement'.

We're now approaching the position where graduates are seen in the same way as placement students - they're desperate and need a foot on the ladder so will work for free or (more insultingly, I think) for a free lunch. When I graduated I struggled to find paid work as I was over-qualified. This is a bad example in some ways because I spent a large amount of time playing Xbox and eating toast when I could have been job hunting, but with a degree and plenty of experience I was 'too good' for paid work, but not good enough for many unpaid internships I looked at.

I have no conclusion here, so I'm sorry. This little rant is just my attempt to understand how graduates, who soon will be paying nearly £30k in fees alone, can be treated so badly by the industries that they are desperate to work in. The friend from above? After an unpaid internship got a lovely job for a massive globo-corp, but that makes her a minority. So fuck working for free and fuck a system where people take unpaid work out of desperation and that demand can be used to justify providing unpaid work.

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