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

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'