Anyone who thinks you need to carry out an unpaid work experience placement to be qualified to work in Poundland has never shopped in fucking Poundland. This is not being a job snob as former Employment Minister Chris Grayling claimed when people objected to Tesco using unpaid staff. It is simply recognising that an employee in a shop adds value to that business from day one – and so they should be paid from day one.
The growth of unpaid work in the UK has been justified with familiar claims that the young are lazy, or need to be taught how to get out of bed in the morning. There is nothing new about this. The generation that came of age in the late 80s and early 90s were ‘slackers’ and all the same crap was said about us. Now some of those slackers are saying the same thing about young people today.
The truth is that the young are working longer for less money than at any point in the last half century. Many are on shitty Apprenticeships which will be paid just £3.30 an hour even after an increase which takes place next month. Others are not even being paid at all and are working full time on Work Experience schemes whilst trying to survive on £57.90 a week Jobseeker’s Allowance. To put this sum in context, as far back as 1989 employer based Youth Training schemes for 16-18 year olds paid a similar amount to this and usually came with a day-release placement at college once a week. Even this has now disappeared. Those on the government’s Work Experience scheme receive no formal training at all beyond the odd workshop in how to write a CV. A recent survey of employers found that even 26% of young people on an Apprenticeship only received less than 3 hours training a week.
This shocking statistic comes from the Employer Perspectives Survey carried out by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES). This large annual survey has regularly been used as evidence that unpaid work experience for the young is essential because this is what employers say they want. The DWP’s recent disastrous #WECan campaign was launched with a gushing press release quoting from the survey that two thirds of employers say that “work experience is a crucial factor when hiring new employees”.
This was an outright lie. What the survey actually says is that 23% of employers believe ‘relevant’ work experience is critical when recruiting staff whilst 43% said it was significant. This is just obvious. The first thing anyone’s going to ask when offering someone a job is whether they’ve done it before or not. In some cases, such as being an airline pilot, it will indeed be critical that they have had some experience flying a plane. Yet the #WeCan campaign claimed that any work experience was important, no matter how irrelevent to the job hopes of the young people concerned.
The DWP are not the only ones who have been less than honest with these survey results. UKCES themselves have misrepresented the results to promote the value of unaid work – such as in the tweet below which claims that work experience is the most common attribute employers cite as lacking in young recruits. A look at the accompanying graph shows that employers appeared to think that it is work or life experience that is lacking amongst new young recruits. A look at the survey from which these figures came shows that what employers were actually asked was whether education leavers had a “lack of working world / life experience or maturity”. Even then less than half of bosses said this was a problem amongst 16 year olds, whilst only 14% of employers thought that 18 year old college leavers lacked life/work experience or maturity.What this survey suggests is that it is just not true that most employers are obsessed with the idea that the young are too lazy and feckless to work. And this shows in their recruitment practices. 31% of employers said they had recruited an education leaver in the last 2-3 years whilst only 29% had recruited someone over 50.
The current obsession with mass workfare is not just pandering to the needs of employers, it is pandering to the never-ending whining of the worst kind of employers – like the 10% of bosses who brazenly told UKCES that the reason they offered work experience placements was to help with the workload or because it meant they didn’t have to pay people.
Legislation is on the way which will force all young people into an unpaid traineeship, an unpaid community work placement, or if they can find one, a poverty paid Apprenticeship. These are young people that could be studying at college, or might have gone to university had the government not tripled tuition fees. They could be fucking about with computer code, or motorbikes, or making things to flog online. Or making music, art or youtube movies. From the UK’s once thriving music scene to the once thriving alternative press, young people with time on their hands have achieved incredible things which have brought benefits to the whole of society in time. And in that process they gained far more work/life experience or maturity then any shitty work placement in a supermarket could offer them.
Unpaid work experience schemes are de-skilling the young, the opposite of their claimed intention. But perhaps this is really why they exist. With the number of middle class jobs expected to shrink due to automation then there will no longer be space for social mobility. The architects of workfare schemes are simply ensuring that in future the good jobs go to their kids and the working class youth are put back in their place.
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