Friday, 24 February 2012

The flaws in the government work experience scheme

I've strongly suspected for a long time that the work experience program being pushed upon job seekers by the government is basically evil. The first hint was when a friend who works in Argos cheerfully referred to the woman on the scheme in his store as 'slave'. (“My manager started it. It's true, really.”) I think I realised it really was evil when I saw that Tesco had withdrawn from the scheme.

A few weeks shadowing a relevant industry, certainly, is not bad thing. Unpaid internships are a lot more morally shaky. But working for Tescos? In the stores? For free?

Before we all cheerfully jump in and tell me that I am a snob/class traitor/etc, allow me to enlighten you on a few facts. I've worked in retail, and Mr Disorientated Graduate still does. A large portion of my job involves e-commerce, which is retail but at least I can put the phone down on the customer. There is nothing wrong with a retail job, or any of the other jobs available through this scheme. In fact, I think it's admirable that people volunteered. There is currently no evidence on how many of these individuals have been able to get a job out of these schemes, but work experience is valuable. I've talked about this before.

There are major problems with a steady stream of people working full time for weeks on end at these jobs. Look, these are not the best jobs in the world. They are jobs you can take pride in, but nevertheless, people don't dream of working in Tesco. That doesn't make them bad or unworthy jobs. I'm also a firm believer in the importance of work as a lifestyle issue as well. It gives you routine, pride in yourself, and independence. However, most importantly they give you a wage. That's why you put up with the bad aspects. Without the pull of a wage, all you do is get the godawful bits of it without the internal chant of 'need to pay the rent, need to pay the rent...'. Trust me, a big gas bill has kept me from swearing or throwing mop buckets at employers before now.

Aha, you might say here. People on these schemes still get benefits, right? And they're voluntary? Yes and yes. (Although the Back to Work schemes for people taken off DLA are a different kettle of fish, I can only deal with those seperately.) As such, they should stay on the scheme until it's over.


That might sound a little right-wing, but hell, I don't care if it is. I pay my taxes to support a welfare state I may well need one day. I have no inclination to pay the 'wages' of someone doing work experience, i.e. a job, at a major corporation. This hurts everyone. A job that Argos should pay for is being done by someone unpaid. This means that Argos, essentially, saves on the wages bill. In the meanwhile, the job market crisis grows deeper and more people end up in this scheme. You tell me that's economically viable and I will eat my hat.

Work experience shouldn't be a real job, not if its unpaid. Shadowing someone for experience is fine, and I applaud that, although an eight-week stint at work isn't realistically going to help anyone's CV.

There aren't enough jobs around, and I know that isn't all the fault of the government. I also know they need to be seen doing something, which is why they're throwing money at shady companies like A4E, and setting up work experience schemes and telling people like me not to be sniffy at the type of work offered. As someone who's employer is looking very seriously at this scheme to 'cover the busy months and keep the wage bill down' I know directly that it hurts people. A job in my office that would previously have been covered by a paid member of staff will instead go to someone desperate for office experience, and the government will fork out the bill. Meanwhile, the job market contracts by one more job.

This scheme, although well-intended, looks like it was worked out on the bag of a fag packet in the pub. Go back and think again, government.

(It should be noted that since the time of starting this piece, many employers have pulled out of the scheme or are further evaluating it. When I have more, I'll post more.)

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

A moment of your time, please

Today I'm telling you about Mike. He has buggar all to do with being a graduate; he and I were colleagues at my first post-graduate job, but that's about it.

Mike would like to go to America. He's been a few times, in fact, but despite constant good timekeeping in terms of return dates and an emphatic desire not to emigrate, just visit, the USA will not let Mike back in. You see, Mike is going to America to visit his boyfriend.

I'll let him tell you about it.

This blog is not my place to comment on American politics, because lots of other people do that better than me. I like America. I like the culture, I like the geography, and so help me I even like the food. I do not like the politics. I do not like the current exciting disregard that most of the lawmakers seem to have for women's health, or indeed for human rights.

I respect a country's right to maintain it's borders, but excluding someone based on their sexuality is wrong. If you also think this is wrong, there is a petition to the White House here.

I don't really know Mike. The last time I saw him we were in Reflex in Liverpool on my leavers do for that, when we danced to the Ghostbusters theme. We're facebook acquaintances, but I have no other compulsion to help him except for the fact that discrimination is wrong, and I know that Mike is a nice guy. No one deserves to be kept apart by borders. That's all I can say, really; I encourage you to sign the petition.

Thanks all.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Student loan ridiculousness (again)

Student loan early repayment penalty proposal' abandoned.

As far as I can tell, pretty much everyone is on the wrong about this one.

Student loans, from what I can tell, are created and administered by people who generally don't have a student loan to pay off themselves because they were students back in the days of things like grants. This was not financially sound as a system. Fine. This is not the argument I am here to have today.

I owe the government tens of thousands of pounds, and I pay back £13 a month at the moment. I don't think I'm ever going to eligible for any theoretical early repayment penalty, or if I am it won't be for a long time which rather takes away the 'early repayment' option. Most students are the same.

Fun story: I know people who got a student loan, put it into a high-interest savings account (this was in 2005 – remember high interest savings?) and then paid the lot back promptly upon graduation, and have used the interest on the loan to have a nest-egg to buy a house. Instinctively, I feel this is wrong and that's with a lot of love and respect to and for the people involved. However, these are the risks taken with the system, and at least they've paid back their loans. It's a lot more than most people manage to do, and at least the money is 'back in the pot', as it were, for future students.

This is a small minority of people. However, a much larger majority of graduates desperately want to pay their loans off. I hate being in debt. Hate it, hate it, hate it. I grew up in a house where Debt Was Bad, and I say this as someone currently surfing the wave of the graduate overdraft so possibly a little hypocritically. If I won the lottery, or managed to get a high-paying job, I would love to pay my loan off quicker.

There are those that will take advantage of the system, and they will end up paying less than less well-off students. The simple – and sad – fact is that richer students will find many things easier in university whilst we live in an unfair society. They just won't take the loan, if they have parents that can support them, which is of course essentially what paying off the loan early is.

Penalising early repayment discourages ambition. That's the simple end of it. “It's to protect lower-income students,” they say. This is bollocks. It says that lower-income students can just stay where they are, on low incomes. If they really wanted to help low-income students, fees would be lower or there would be no loans at all. Don't take away people's pride in being able to pay back debt sooner, and I'm talking to you, Liberal Democrats and National Union of Students.

The system is what's unfair, and faffing about with early and late repayment is just stupid. (And yes, 'faffing about' is a technical term.)

Thursday, 9 February 2012

St Andrews Memes

There has recently been a rash of university memes across Facebook. I would like it know for posterity that St Andrews, much like Facebook itself in the UK, DID IT FIRST. (That's right, UK - it's our fault.)

You can find it here.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Graduate Myth #9: Food

Students can't cook. Fact. Graduates magically acquire powers to ensure that mean they know the best restaurants and can whip up a soufflé to impress the boss. Fact.

Or not, as this mindset is actually a total myth.

We'll deal with problem number 1 first. To begin with, a lot of students can't cook, and that's with all due respect to students. Many eighteen year old people can't cook. That said, a few can, and most learn, out of necessity. Cooking well is perhaps a different question, simply because good ingredients and student budgets don't always mix. Nor do kitchens with any real living space. Then again, with a lot of free time, some students become very good cooks, and even better bakers. It's always cookie time when you're a student!

(Okay, I just love the Cookie Monster.)

Then again, university is the time when your mind can be opened up to new foods. I grew up in a household of fairly unadventurous eaters with some weird food aversions. Mum won't eat parnsips or peppers, and Dad dislikes pasta. All of the p words, pretty much banned. So when I got to university, I could cook, a little, but all of the new flavours that friend's cooking introduced me to basically blew my mind. I didn't even know what pesto was until I got to university. Now it's a mainstay of my diet. Arguably, my interest in food and food culture began at university, and now I happily eat things that still freak out my family.

As a graduate, am I a better cook? Well, slightly, but mostly because I can afford the ingredients (sometimes) and have a kitchen to myself. Honestly, though, I don't have the knack. I am a functional cook. I can throw together a meal from basically nothing, I can cook for a few weeks without any repeats, and and a push I can now create a three-course meal from scratch although I will use every utensil and fail to do the washing up. Most of my cooking, though, comes from jars and packets in some way or the other. No Come Dine With Me just yet.

Am I a discerning eater at restaurants? Well, I can read a menu better now, and I love going out for meals, but I wouldn't say I'm especially sophisticated about it. I get slightly unnerved by 'cuisine' as I don't know what most of it is. I'm best on Italian food, after traipsing around Italy for three happy weeks a few years ago. I'm also shameless, though, about going to chain restaurants, most recently eating my own weight at Gourmet Burger Kitchen (try the bean burger, it's epic) at lunch.

I went to aforementioned lunch with my Mum, and she was astonished that I knew what everything on the menu was. So I suppose, compared to when I was a green eighteen year old who didn't really know what a roasted parsnip tasted like, I am fairly sophisticated when it comes to food, and I do enjoy flicking through recipe books and trying new ideas. More realistically, though, very few people are miraculously good at food. Instead, it's a sign of growing up and moving around a bit, and trying new things.

But if you were the kind of student that ate nothing but beans on toast and Pot Noodle, then no, you are not going to miraculously be able to cook. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

Thursday, 2 February 2012


Going on holiday from work is deeply, deeply weird. Good, obviously, but deeply weird.

Holidays from school and university are different. Everyone goes on holiday at the same time, you expect things to be different, and things to happen to everyone. That's just peachy. Holidays from work are really, really weird because you go away and stuff... doesn't really happen. Everyone is sat in the same place, all of the same jobs need doing, and once you get over the morning of catching up with e-mails and your own little projects, that's about it. The luxurious holiday, or rejuvenation days, disappear into bittersweet memories as alarm bleeps at the same time and work continues on the same little treadmill.

OR ALTERNATIVELY you come back from work and discover this looking back at you from your desktop:

(Where there is some very bad paint spray was my last name. Okay, pretty much anyone can find out who I am, and I post links to this on my facebook wall, but let's pretend to retain an air of mystery.)

I went away for one day. Just one. I'm saving up all of my holidays to get married in, and taken the odd day for wedding preparation. Apparently a recent Friday in which I made myself absent was a very dull day indeed, because the buggars hacked into my computer and left this for my on the desktop. THANKS GUYS.

(Actually, I sat down, logged in, and howled with laughter before hastily taking it off my desktop because I couldn't bear the thought of him looking at me every day, but I did chortle. We don't talk about politics a lot in my office, but my distaste for Cameron is well known.)

Then, of course, things trundled back into the old routine, but at least things don't all stay exactly the same!