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

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

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

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own