“Downsize your Dreams”, we are Told.

I have come across a podcast today on the Guardian website entitled Careers Talk – The Graduate Job Formula and I have to say, I was livid. (Predictable, yes, but I wouldn’t be writing this if I was delighted, would I?)

The podcast was conducted by four girls who chuckled more or less throughout, in what I believe was a botched attempt to take this serious matter seriously.

The situation presented is a familiar one:

Art student finishes enjoyable degree and enters the employment world ambitious, creative, full of ideas, and impatient to start working in a field he or she loves. Art student then finds most of the very few positions already filled by Oxbridge candidates or those who had the resources to undertake free work, travelling, and all manner CV building unrelated to the person’s actual ability. Art student, dejected and crestfallen, retreats into obscurity and works odd jobs until dream can be realised.

Unfortunately, the dream is often not realised because of the webs we are woven into.

These girls disagree. They say working in a call centre, for example, can be a very positive experience where many skills can be fleeced in return for some cognitive downtime.

The positives which were mentioned were as follows:

The training. Oh yes, the training. Knowing what button on the phone unit to press and how to speak to people, yes, I did not learn these things when I was a child, I must have been too busy dissecting Lego from my arse.

Understanding the legal issues. Call centres can be very challenging places to work in. A tech support call centre have an influx of distressed people with broken computers or broken lives which require real expert advice. But lets face it, you won’t be in a call centre like that because that requires years of training and probably a degree, and most importantly, some kind of passion for it. You’re more likely to be working in a sales role smiling your face off at a cold computer screen. Legal issues? Yeah, don’t swear at the idiot on the phone, which leads me nicely into…

Learning how to deal with difficult people. “We all have to deal with difficult people at some stage in our career…” was how this positive was framed. Indeed, we do. However, a difficult person being difficult about something you could not give a crumb of crap about is far different from a difficult person being difficult about something you are enthusiastic and passionate about. Chances are, you don’t care for that insurance you’re shotting, or the cable deal, or mobile phone, or whatever modern trinket we busy ourselves with these days.

And my favourite:

Future employers will know you are very hardworking. I can’t fault them here, they are right. You must be very hardworking, determined, dogged, resolute, and all of the other superlatives which also fit well with the Catholic Church’s attitude in covering up its child abuse scandal. Working in a call centre is textbook training for being another expendable entity in a system which is intent on maximising the commodification of labour, creating worker bots who simply generate wealth for the elites. Basically, your future employer will know you will do all your work, and usually theirs, without complaint or call for better treatment.

 

imageYou’ll be sitting next L9JKV811.

By the way, I’m actually a balding, pugnacious man who hates you.

 

We are told we would be “work ready” after our ordeal. Having our ambitions bludgeoned by big business, who wouldn’t be ready for the particular employment market which awaits our fall from grace?

We are told to present our experiences at these call dungeons “intelligently” on our CVs, with the assumption that we won’t naively on their minds. What else are we to do? Write down we hated everything about it to the point where we daydreamed about suicide in our breaks?

“No, be honest, it was good for you. You just don’t know it.”

These four girls, who are expanding their journalism portfolio and are, from what I can surmise, doing what they want, have the cheek to preach to recent graduates about the CV goodness of putting down “Call Centre” as past or present employment, let alone actually enduring life as a call centre agent.

This is all presuming you can freely quit whenever you want, and have little debt to pay off in the inevitable gap between jobs where you have no income.

It is remarkably patronising and counter-productive to advise arts students to “be realistic” about their career prospects without simultaneously addressing the negative, oppressive system they are graduating into. Of course, as usual, it must be the graduate’s fault, or the low income worker’s fault, or the unemployed person’s fault – wealth is out there, go get it like everyone else is. They almost want to say stop sucking at life.

It is infuriating having such short-sighted people exercise some kind of false authority in this subject when they are clearly ignoring the public mood and have no idea about the global picture—and at the same time carve a career out of it in such an important field—journalism.

The most ironic part of the whole turgid conversation had later with a Professor was when he listed the key ingredients to give your job hunt the best chance. What ranked higher than anything else, according to him, was having good contacts. How worrying it is that graduates are expected to already have contacts without being previously employed.

“Dad, who was that guy you said would be interested in taking me on for a bit?”

Plainly put, we are becoming increasingly tired of papering over cracks, of having drivel being fed to us as news, of bailing out exploitative and opportunistic banks and funding illegal wars with public money, with government forever placating corporatists, with cementing the plutocracy, and with these geriatric “experts” making us feel like they “understand”.

The more we have people like these girls telling us to see the positives in slaving away in enormous call centres for people who view you as a screw in their wealth machine, the more desperate our society will become in overhauling itself.

Where is the identification of the new workforce and what it desires to do? If a lot of people are now taking arts based degrees, for example, where is the increase of arts based jobs? We are already seeing government cuts to these kind of jobs, with the Murdoch empire hovering like vultures over the BBC and any Tory plans which may call for its downsizing.

Collectively, people should determine what they want to do, and not corporations. There is a massive disconnection with the employment “market” and what people wish to do and study. We peer out of our university gates after three years only to realise these kind of jobs “are not there” and be told “not everyone can be artists”.

Of course they couldn’t; there would be no-one left to work for the elites who offer little material reward or fulfillment. There would also be even more competition for these journalism jobs.

Vote for Change

Vote for Change - 9.9.10

The “Win-Win Situation” That Destroys Social Mobility.

20/08/2010 2 comments

I sit here a bitter man. Not because I have been recovering from a bout of food poisoning which has hampered my contributions to this space or an unexpected computer virus which compelled me to format my computer, but more crucially, unpaid internships continuing with no real sign of being reined in.

Graduates gain an experience and employers gain free labour – what’s the problem?

Unpaid internships ruin the chances of graduates from poorer families gaining valuable experience during their course and after they finish university. They contribute greatly to the very real brick wall that manifests as companies look for individuals who can basically pay them for the “experience”.

What good is it graduating from university with a degree which was at least part subsidised by the state through capped tuition costs and helpful low interest loans, only to emerge looking for a job in an employment environment populated by organisations who largely offer only unpaid internships?

The result of this process is the creation of two working worlds – one for the rich and one for the poor. Both the public and private sectors are guilty of this practice.

Below is the job description of a post I have recently found.

 

jobdesc1 …and make us a coffee. Cheers.

 

Now, that seems like a decent amount of work suitable for a graduate in their second role. The above is actually a position advertised on a British website inviting graduates to apply to an internship in the heart of Berlin. To compensate the graduate, a monthly “honorarium” of 500 EUR is offered to cover costs. Clearly, 500 EUR is not nearly enough to cover rent in the heart of Berlin, let alone the flight there and living expenses (nevermind actually doing the above).

This occurs everywhere, and nobody is really that bothered. Given the saturated job market due to the number of graduates, there must be some mechanism to filter out the applicants who do not make the grade required yet(?). This is necessary in today’s working world, but I believe the practice of unpaid internships unfairly discriminates against those who cannot even apply because they know they cannot afford it.

I don’t have to go to Berlin for such an example either, there are plenty much closer to home. With Thatcher’s realignment of everything valuable being in the heart of London and nowhere else, businesses have had to “go where the money is” and set up base in London, depriving the rest of the country from outlets graduates can apply to to practice their skills.

For example, a graduate from the North East of England who wants to start his career must be able to afford an internship in London to gain a foothold in their industry of choice. They cannot compete with those who are from London because Londoners simply have more opportunities to start and grow their career through unpaid internships they can afford.

This is not meritocratic; it is basically dynastic.

There remains little incentive for businesses and organisations to offer paid internships when there are affluent graduates who can depend on their parents to subsidise the “impressive” unpaid work they can choose undertake home and abroad. This is especially true in the nigh impregnable NGO sector where elitism is rife and managers tend to “revert to type”.

Many such organisations more recently complain of the economic downturn as the reason for the cycles of free labour they employ. Plain lies. I have seen very small organisations who comply with law by granting the National Minimum Wage, and I have seen some of the largest organisations make it explicitly clear they will not even pay expenses.

None are more guilty than the United Nations. Their internship offers no expenses whatsoever, despite the requirements of a flight to New York, rent and living expenses (a quoted sum of $5,000 for the internship in total). Not only do you have to pay this hefty fee to work for them for nothing, you have to be currently enrolled in graduate study.

This means the student will just have to have the money if they want the experience, with no option of working to save up for it available given the requirement to be already in full time education. Daddy’s wallet comes into play and the affluent graduate has their edge against the competition. If this isn’t simply buying experience, I don’t know what it. How is this fair?

 

UN Internship “Thanks dad!”

 

The simple fact is this: nobody should have to pay to be employed. When someone has parted with money to gain experience, a market system is in place where none should be. Of course the demand is high for careerists to scribble “United Nations” on their CV, but the supply of that experience should never be determined by how much money the applicant has to offer.

This is why interns must be paid at least the National Minimum Wage.

The employment process has lost its integrity given its marketisation. Tuition fees are capped for a reason – so the top universities in the country cannot charge more than the smaller less established universities. This is fair because admission should be primarily based on merit, not quantity of payment. Employment should operate similarly, but it doesn’t.

Whenever there is an avenue to influence, to gain and demonstrate power, and to accumulate wealth, the rich will devise ways to segregate the population and distract us with other problems. Powerful positions are simply reserved for those who have the “material pedigree”. Social mobility is intrinsic to what a democracy actually means, but it is lying dead in the water.

It must be said, the common myth is that social mobility has been in sharp decline for the last 20 years. This isn’t true; it has merely stabilised – not improved or worsened noticeably. The sharp decline commenced because of the free-market religion created during the height of the Cold War, with the unholy alliance of Thatcher and Reagan, its two most prominent advocates.

What we’re experiencing now is a “don’t rock the boat” approach undertaken by market-speak neo-liberals who are bereft of ideas. The answer always seems to be “charge for it” if it is free, or “charge more” if it is supposedly in high demand. The only market regulation which seems to exist is to deprive the poor of the product or opportunity to maintain its value.

Fairness is must be rooted in equal opportunities. It is those first few jobs which shape our attitude to life and help us identify what we truly want to do. When opportunities are unnecessarily limited at this stage, we “settle” for things we otherwise would not settle for. Our dreams become distant and naive, and we accept exploitation as if it defined maturity.

It doesn’t; it simply defines exploitation.

An old funny tweet created to rib conservatives goes: “if you have inherited hard all your life, you should be able to pass it on to your children”. Too right; here’s a load of money, my mansion, the keys to the BMW and your first job. None of these things bother me at all apart from the last gift enabled by our “job market” – that phrase alone is turning my stomach again.

Big Fish Eat Little Fish

pieter_bruegel_the_elder-_big_fish_eat_little_fish

As something of an introductory post, I will only touch on the concepts and ideas I will be writing about in depth in the future. May you find it all worthwhile.

The 16th C drawing above is by Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder. I first saw it during my teenage art studies and thought it fascinating for some then intangible reason. While a lot of profound renaissance pieces do well to capture the grandeur and the vibrant decadence of the time, the smooth lines were too well purchased for me and most didn’t affect me nearly as much as this grubby drawing. It appeals to me so much because not many things I can think of better depict the corporatism that is so prevalent in our mishmash of a neo-liberal, neo-conservative, proto-ludicrous modern culture.

This drawing is what I see before me when I step outside. I see the rich bending the rules so that our infantile democracy better serves them than us – the people, the baying crowd, “the beast”. I see the poor being pitted against each other, so that whatever scrap of wealth they have becomes a jealous burden for their neighbour. I see violence of the most insidious, transformative kind being employed against us. I see us being individually gutted by others sporting smiles. “That’s the way things go” echoes in our ears as we look at our entrails. Finally, dispirited and downtrodden, the carcass of our dreams washes up on the shores of the concrete jungles we live in.

Then we show our children how to bear the process.

The best way to keep any group down is to keep them dependent. This is what our corporate masters do to us. We are promised choice, freedom, and equality – we get wars, slave labour, and wage theft – all made possible by engendering apathy and detachment amongst the population. The clash of civilisations is a smokescreen for an impermeable shield the wealthy have erected around their assets. Sure, I might not understand a certain ethnic custom or tradition, but these are the things I can appreciate aesthetically or refer to secular law for.

On the other hand, the economy is completely ambiguous. It is something we vaguely hear of every now and then, usually alongside huge barely recognisable numbers we have no real experience of. The real war is and never was between the “East” and the “West”, but between the “North” and the “South” – this is why we are flooded with information and opinion regarding the former, and only hear whispers about the latter. The rich exist in every country, and in every country, they are propped up by the poor. It is only the rules of this arrangement which appear to differ. Globalisation is merely standardising the rules of any success.

Sometimes though, there can be too much. Boom, bust, crash… help? Hold on, “we are all in this together”. This is the gospel of the ruling Tory party in Britain. Of course we are. The banking system failed all of us, then public money was used to bail out the irresponsible banks who concentrated on their more profitable investment arms. Failed bankers and businessmen are hired elsewhere (or left willingly), while public servants must now suffer redundancies, sector cuts, and pay freezes.

But hey, the champagne is rolling again in “the city”, so everything must be getting better. Everywhere else is supposedly unprofitable wasteland – I mean, why pay someone to make something here when you can a) make it abroad with cheap slave labour, poor working conditions and no benefits or b) not make anything at all and just make money with money in some game with numbers somewhere in “the city”.

It was not our teachers, our secretaries, or our youth workers who scandalously betted with and lost our money, it was our bankers and business elites. Yet, we live in a system where they have become the barometer of our economy, our employment, and ultimately our livelihoods. Bosses are not more important than their workers, they just pretend to be and we seemingly go along with it.

“Look, child, this is how you gut a fish”.

The public sector has recently been a stable source of employment for many of us here, and that is what matters – employment. Employment determines peoples livelihood. The Tories naively want discarded public sector workers to migrate into the private sector. They want state workers to reprogram themselves into money-centric robots – what they tentatively call “entrepreneurs”, or more realistically, “failed entrepreneurs”. There can only be so many bosses, after all.

Anybody who works in the public sector in the first place was probably dismayed by the conditions and erratic behaviour of modern business practice, hence their choice to serve the permanent state in some way. The job may have been superfluous (through no fault of their own), but at least it was honest. The fact of the matter is, the money isn’t across that bridge the government is telling us to cross anyway. The invisible hand plays with an invisible deck most of the time.

Schools and universities have also, for the most part, become cloning centres teaching subjects that are cute but not deemed employable. A quick look at the graduate section of all jobs sites will land you in a deluge of sales, marketing, and recruitment consultancy roles. “So”, the graduate reflects, “my options after leaving with a degree is either to directly sell something, indirectly sell something, or help someone else get a job selling something, or indirectly selling something”.

Our economy is built on jobs that compel people to forsake their youthful ambitions and their true passions. We must now, having seemingly failed at being architects or archaeologists for example, make a living shovelling the dirt away from the river of capital flowing into our masters’ well-tailored deep pockets. This is sometimes euphemistically called “growing up”. Bollocks to that, this is more like “growing down”, or growing a hunch on your back.

The wealthy are protected from such harsh realities through mounds of inheritance, being paid more attention to at school in smaller classrooms and being paid more attention to at home from their affluent parents. When it comes to starting a career, they can afford prestigious unpaid internships (again, daddy’s wallet) at organisations whose reputations sell themselves and need offer no expenses whatsoever, even with relocation involved (winking at the United Nations here).

We are weaved this illusion that the poor must be lazy benefit cheats who use Britain and are jealous of the rich. We despise them for it. We start looking down at “them”, these vile citizens of our beloved righteous country, to feel that ugly but intoxicating feeling of superiority that is so rare. We do this rather than look up to see the real culprits who make us feel powerless.

The government too is something we are meant to elect to serve us, to be on our side, but it has become a shadow of corporate nepotism, together forming a tag-team of oppression with business for mutual preservation. We have been lied to forever; by our schools, by our government who control our schools, and by those who tell us our reliance on a market controlled by invisible forces who only have to buy you when you’re down to win you is the only way to prosper.

We are only useful insofar as we become obedient cogs of this alien machine we live within. We must never lose the unfamiliarity of it all – of being in this construct. We must never accept our bitter toil as sacrosanct. Oiling the wheels of this tyrannical machine with all its distractions we live under is unacceptable; we need to change the wheels altogether and burn the old dysfunctional motor down to the ground.

This little space on the internet will be devoted to ripping apart the webs we live in. Our “knowledge economy” is bankrupt because freethinking is not cultivated in our youth. What we need is an “ideas economy”, with a realigned education and value system emphasising the dignity of life and labour, rather than the religion of “maximum profit at minimum cost”. The latter has seen the erosion of the classical market system into one where wealth simply begets wealth, regardless of product.

Many of us hope to break into this game with good intentions and change it from the top. This is impossible. For one only makes it into the boardroom precisely because one has no intention to change the way things are done. Things change because the people want them to change. The rich have fantastic defence mechanisms in place to prevent this and deflect attention away from the real problems.

They cultivate animosity between those they see as beneath them. They have eager government lackeys and lawyers who do their bidding. And the most powerful of all – a pen and a blank cheque. If you can’t beat them, buy them, and have them for dinner later with a bit of tartar sauce.

No more.