Strivers versus shirkers: the reality of work for young graduates today

'Work experience' and 'workfare' create a moneyless vacuum between education and full time employment that only the rich are able to fill

Share
Related Topics

In their desperation to cut the welfare bill and make it seem palatable to voters, the Coalition government has developed an obsession with the war between ‘strivers versus shirkers’.

This narrative has been used as a battering ram against their mythically ‘feckless’ and ‘lazy’ workforce who are to blame for their own lack of social mobility.

However, these proclamations are laughable when the ‘strivers’ they so admire, particularly the younger ones, are still stymied at every turn by the fact that work often doesn’t pay at all.

Essentially, you can’t ‘make work pay’ without fighting the far more prevalent ‘something for nothing culture’ amongst employers. Unpaid internships, ‘work experience’ and workfare are all pitched as a way to get young people experience in their chosen field so they can get on the career ladder.

However, instead of acting as a leg up they create a moneyless vacuum between education and full time employment that only the rich are able to fill. It is a simple premise; if you want someone to work for you, you have to pay for them.

For so long it seemed to be going in the right direction. Over the past six months to a year I have noticed a real increase in the number of paying internships and not just because the economy is slowly starting to improve.

However, despite all these positive steps there are still employers who still regard young labour as there to exploit. Take this job advert for staff and unpaid interns at the Dalkey Press Archive, a publishing imprint funded by the University of Illinois which is expanding its London office.

The job advert calls for unpaid interns to be available for work during all evenings and weekends required and have no other prior personal or professional commitments. Not fulfilling this will end in immediate dismissal.  Other inexcusable infractions include:

“failing to meet any goals; giving unsolicited advice about how to run things; taking personal phone calls during work hours; gossiping; misusing company property, including surfing the internet while at work; submission of poorly written materials; creating an atmosphere of complaint or argument; failing to respond to emails in a timely way; not showing an interest in other aspects of publishing beyond editorial; making repeated mistakes”.

While the editor of the Dalkey Press, John O’Brien ignored my request for comment, he did tell Laurence Mackin of the Irish Times that the advert was tongue in cheek and he takes any internship he offers ‘very seriously’. The advert was supposedly designed to discourage time wasters.

He argues that he receives so many CVs that list six internships or more and feels this shows a candidate is not good enough.  He feels if they get an internship and don’t get a job at the end they the company in question wasn’t impressed with their performance.

This sort of attitude ignores the reality of work for many young graduates today. Whereas back in the days where you were legally forced to pay people for the work they did there was an incentive to keep people on and train them. Now that labour is free, where is the incentive to take on paid permanent staff? Is it any wonder that you get graduates with six internships to their names when you see regularly see internships advertised for the same company once every three months?

Take this article from Personnel Today, admittedly written in 2009, which discusses the benefits of taking unpaid interns and gives some handy hints on how to ‘avoid the risk’ of them being classed as a worker.

It warns against employing any one intern for too long as after a year they are entitled to employment rights.

Heaven forbid.

This current attitude to young people’s work is dangerous and unsustainable. In order to strive for something more, my generation needs to have the work we do in the beginning respected. We are willing to work hard, we can accept relatively low pay, but we deserve to be financially reimbursed for ‘striving’, not punished for being comparatively powerless in the labour market.

In a world where young people didn’t strive, unpaid internships would be a paradox. Why would anyone want to work for free if they weren’t hoping it would turn into something more? That is why companies still view short term free labour as economically viable. They get all the effort, intelligence and commitment of an employee without any of the labour costs. The stereotype of the unprepared, lazy graduate is a convenient fiction used to perpetuate unjust labour practices.

How is my generation supposed to ‘strive’ when given our current employment prospects most of us struggle to survive? 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

 

Political satire is funny, but it also causes cynicism and apathy

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
The super-rich now live in their own Elysium - they breathe better air, and eat better food, when they're not making beans on toast for their kids

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium

They breathe better air, eat better food, take better medicine
A generation of dropouts failed by colleges

Dropout generation failed by colleges

£800m a year wasted on students who quit courses before they graduate
Entering civilian life 'can be like going into the jungle' for returning soldiers

Homeless Veterans appeal

Entering civilian life can be like going into the jungle
Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Fifty Shades of Grey director on bringing the hit to the screen
Shazam! Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

Shazam: Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch