Friday, 24 February 2012

The flaws in the government work experience scheme

I've strongly suspected for a long time that the work experience program being pushed upon job seekers by the government is basically evil. The first hint was when a friend who works in Argos cheerfully referred to the woman on the scheme in his store as 'slave'. (“My manager started it. It's true, really.”) I think I realised it really was evil when I saw that Tesco had withdrawn from the scheme.

A few weeks shadowing a relevant industry, certainly, is not bad thing. Unpaid internships are a lot more morally shaky. But working for Tescos? In the stores? For free?

Before we all cheerfully jump in and tell me that I am a snob/class traitor/etc, allow me to enlighten you on a few facts. I've worked in retail, and Mr Disorientated Graduate still does. A large portion of my job involves e-commerce, which is retail but at least I can put the phone down on the customer. There is nothing wrong with a retail job, or any of the other jobs available through this scheme. In fact, I think it's admirable that people volunteered. There is currently no evidence on how many of these individuals have been able to get a job out of these schemes, but work experience is valuable. I've talked about this before.

There are major problems with a steady stream of people working full time for weeks on end at these jobs. Look, these are not the best jobs in the world. They are jobs you can take pride in, but nevertheless, people don't dream of working in Tesco. That doesn't make them bad or unworthy jobs. I'm also a firm believer in the importance of work as a lifestyle issue as well. It gives you routine, pride in yourself, and independence. However, most importantly they give you a wage. That's why you put up with the bad aspects. Without the pull of a wage, all you do is get the godawful bits of it without the internal chant of 'need to pay the rent, need to pay the rent...'. Trust me, a big gas bill has kept me from swearing or throwing mop buckets at employers before now.

Aha, you might say here. People on these schemes still get benefits, right? And they're voluntary? Yes and yes. (Although the Back to Work schemes for people taken off DLA are a different kettle of fish, I can only deal with those seperately.) As such, they should stay on the scheme until it's over.


That might sound a little right-wing, but hell, I don't care if it is. I pay my taxes to support a welfare state I may well need one day. I have no inclination to pay the 'wages' of someone doing work experience, i.e. a job, at a major corporation. This hurts everyone. A job that Argos should pay for is being done by someone unpaid. This means that Argos, essentially, saves on the wages bill. In the meanwhile, the job market crisis grows deeper and more people end up in this scheme. You tell me that's economically viable and I will eat my hat.

Work experience shouldn't be a real job, not if its unpaid. Shadowing someone for experience is fine, and I applaud that, although an eight-week stint at work isn't realistically going to help anyone's CV.

There aren't enough jobs around, and I know that isn't all the fault of the government. I also know they need to be seen doing something, which is why they're throwing money at shady companies like A4E, and setting up work experience schemes and telling people like me not to be sniffy at the type of work offered. As someone who's employer is looking very seriously at this scheme to 'cover the busy months and keep the wage bill down' I know directly that it hurts people. A job in my office that would previously have been covered by a paid member of staff will instead go to someone desperate for office experience, and the government will fork out the bill. Meanwhile, the job market contracts by one more job.

This scheme, although well-intended, looks like it was worked out on the bag of a fag packet in the pub. Go back and think again, government.

(It should be noted that since the time of starting this piece, many employers have pulled out of the scheme or are further evaluating it. When I have more, I'll post more.)

1 comment:

  1. I'm not trying to be funny but you should correct the "who's" to "whose" in the 9th paragraph.

    Employers aren't going to be happy if you make that kind of mistake on a business email!

    I agree with your sentiment here and I will endeavour to read more of your blog in due course!

    I'm actually doing an internship in Japan at the moment and I've had my fair share of ups and downs too!