I see that the BBC’s iPM blog is asking for the human stories behind the current unemployment figures. Well, I am a human face of two recent news stories.
As readers are no doubt sick of reading by now, one of those stories was the loss of around 27,000 jobs at Woolworths. The other is the shortage of graduate-level jobs.
I graduated last summer. I didn’t have a job to walk into straight away because I wanted to take time to think about my future plans. Plus, the economy seemed bad enough at the time, and I thought maybe things would improve a bit later down the line. Now I have more or less decided what sort of work I would like to do, but of course the economy has deteriorated further and the jobs simply aren’t there.
The thing is, I’m not the only one. I can’t think of anyone who was in the same school year as me and has found a graduate-level job. I haven’t kept in touch with many people from university, but those I have heard from are either working in part-time retail jobs or more-or-less volunteering. I am still in touch with a lot of people from school, and no-one I know who was in the same year as me has found a job yet. I’m sure there are loads of people of my age who have found a decent job — I just don’t know any of them.
Many are doing five year courses anyway so are still studying. One or two have opted to go onto further study, while the rest of us are still searching for employment. And I’m not talking about people who got thirds from Shatsborough Poly by any means. I know someone who got a first at St Andrews University and is currently working in a shop.
A few months ago I still had the luxury of working in a shop. Of course, staying on at Woolies was never my long-term goal. It would have been useful as a back-up plan though. Not exactly a plan B, but maybe a plan C. As it stands, I’m still waiting for something to turn up in the realm of plan A, I need to wait and see with plan B, and plan C has totally fallen through already. For now, I’m onto plan D — D for “dole”.
So the news that there is a shortage of graduate places is not exactly news to me. I’ve experienced it myself and I’ve shared that experience with my acquaintances. What is really worrying is that a situation that was bad for the class of 2008 looks set to become even worse in 2009, with no sign of a recovery.
I had long feared that my degree wouldn’t be worth much. When I was at my lowest ebb, I thought that the whole higher education machine was a bit of a scam. When you are at school, you are pretty much told by everyone that going to university is the only option if you don’t want to spend your life being a street cleansing operative. Parents want you to go to university because of their pride. Schools want you to go to university, probably because of some kind of target, or league tables or something. And governments want you to go to university because of their peculiar obsession with having 50% of school leavers in higher education, and probably also to keep unemployment figures down as well.
Quite why I should have wanted to go to university is a bit of a mystery now. It was fairly clear early on that my degree wouldn’t be enough to set me apart, mostly because people began to tell us. There was that old joke about the university graduate who went on to become the best barman in town.
I could see why it was the case. The intellectual range of students is surprisingly large. I studied alongside many students who did not seem very bright (and spent much of their four years at university consuming alcohol), but were obviously quite good at exams. I think I am relatively smart and hard-working, but I don’t happen to perform so well at exams (my essay marks were always higher). Both types of student are likely to get a 2:1, but one of those types is surely the better for the employer. I have few ways of signalling to an employer which type I am.
The fact that employers do not value degrees very highly at all is evident in the fact that most blue chip companies will have job applicants sit their own exams, aptitude tests, diagrammatic reasoning tests and so on and so forth. Simply, there are too many degrees sloshing about in the system and the value of a degree is now so low that it tells you almost nothing about a person’s ability to do a job.
Maybe in the long run it will pay off and I will be pleased I put myself through four years of stress and horrible three hour round-trip commutes. In the meantime, I look at the people around me who have never been to university and think what I could be doing now had I taken their path. If I worked in a shop from the age of 16, I could be in management by now. If I left school at 16 and took up a trade such as plumbing, I would be perfectly comfortable and happy with my life already. I might even be running my own business. As things stand, I just feel a bit lost and I don’t know what my prospects are.
What I find notable is that the few opportunities I have had have arisen as a result of my blogging activities. No-one is interested in me because of my degree. There are plenty of people with one of them, and they’re all looking for jobs too.
The loss of my part time job last week came as a further blow to morale. Even though I was planning to leave my job at around this time anyway, there is nothing like being made redundant from a low-paid shelf-stacking job to make you feel like a spare part to the world. I need to remember that it’s not my fault.
Unemployment has affected me more than I thought it might. While I have never been unemployed in the official sense before, I have had periods of downtime before — summer breaks from university and the like. I thought it would feel like that. But it doesn’t. A whole lot of baggage comes with unemployment.
I have found myself being quite down at times. The scariest part is not the lack of income (for the time being) but the potential that I might end up isolated. You might not get along with all of your colleagues, but they are nonetheless like a second family. It’s a whole set of people who are there, prepared to listen to you and offer advice. Regular contact with people keeps you connected to society. With many of my friends either still studying or gallivanting somewhere else, I am a bit worried about becoming isolated.
Jennifer Tracey asks on the iPM blog if there is less of a stigma attached to being unemployed now that the economy is in such a bad state. I couldn’t help but feel rather self conscious as I took my first trip to the Jobcentre and I almost felt like the spotlight was on me as I walked up the steps to the entrance. I suppose that is quite silly really, because in this part of the world the Jobcentre’s steps are quite well used.
But what other people might think doesn’t bother me as much as what I think does. The prospect that I might be unable to positively contribute to society for the next while vexes me a lot.