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If not work experience, what else are young jobseekers going to do?

There’s a narrow window of opportunity for building a career or earning a living these days.

If you’re 20 and jobless you can’t get work without experience... and there’s no experience without a job.

If you’re 50 and jobless you can’t get a job because you have too much experience... and your knees are starting to creak.

So, just as we’re being told we’re going to have to work until we’re 70 – our own fault for living too long with creaking knees – it’s beginning to look as though pretty soon most will be lucky to secure a job to take them from 30 to 45. And that’s nowhere long enough to save for a pension.

Right now you need a lot of luck and then some if you’re looking for employment.

In addition to the too young, too old, no experience, too much of it conundrum, there’s another inescapable fly in the ointment. Jobs aren’t exactly growing on trees right now – and neither will they be for some considerable time to come.

So, what to do? Well, how refreshing it would be if someone – anyone – in government, business, unions and those vociferously angry protest groups would fess up and tell the truth.

Nobody has a clue what to do.

So, it’s with some sympathy for this government – really quite rare for me – that I’ve been watching the furore over unpaid work experience for young people flare like a firework in a filling station.

Quite rightly, protesters who hate it complain it doesn’t solve the complex, painful problem of today’s dire work shortages. With some justification they grumble that if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth being paid for.

In better times nobody could argue with that.

But were work experience initiatives – either government inspired or offered independently by large numbers of companies – ever meant to address all our country’s unemployment difficulties in one fell swoop? Surely not.

And if a job’s worth having, isn’t it worth taking a shot at showing what you’re made of, acquiring a work ethic in the process? Well, it couldn’t harm.

Anti capitalist protesters have forced some large employers to pull out of the government’s work experience scheme, claiming it’s slave labour and neither use nor ornament to young people who need to earn.

That’s an unfair and ill-informed judgement. Good work experience is anything but exploitative. It requires busy working people to add willingly to their responsibilities by offering mentoring, coaching, encouragement and supervision to youngsters who need meaningful training, if they are to gain access to the jobs market.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a job you owe it to those who want one not to pull up the career ladder behind you.

Nobody promised to change the world of work overnight. Work experience schemes for school leavers and college graduates don’t even nibble at the edges of the problems of middle aged men and women desperate to find work after redundancy.

They won’t make any impression on women – suffering most harshly in the current swathes of job cuts – anxious to return to the workplace after having raised families.

But any scheme to give fit and able kids an alternative to sleeping until the crack of noon can’t be all bad can it?

A feel for the workplace must surely be invaluable to anyone on the long and lonely trawl of situations vacant pages.

For young people it must surely be close to a godsend. A confidence builder and self-esteem booster; an opportunity to gather and store knowledge and behaviour traits employers will be looking for when they have jobs to offer.

Not every work experience episode will lead to direct employment. Apparently 50 per cent of kids who do unpaid work find there’s no job at the end of it.

But that also means that 50 per cent do. And that has to be worthwhile.

The world of work isn’t all soft-option egalitarianism. It’s hard world realism.

You reap what you sow; earn on performance, results and commitment. Outside of the rarefied bubble of investment banking, there are no financial rewards for failure. Effort is required. Lots of effort is required.

As a kid after A-level, I was sent to gain work experience in a school. Detailed to give English lessons to eight-year-olds, who much preferred tearing each other’s hair out to taking spelling tests, I hated it.

Quitting wasn’t an option. No money was paid but the school’s head teacher, my own school’s head teacher and my parents would have had my guts for garters had I failed to keep the faith and learned that work for many meant completing one awful day, getting up to do it all over again the next – until by personal application, enjoyment kicked in.

I learned an important lesson. I could never have been a teacher of eight-year-olds – not even for a gilt-edged pension.

In those days the importance of the work ethic was taught in school and at home. It was a way of life.

When I got the job I’d dreamed of, my grandfather passed on his own work ethic advice: “Always do a bit more than you’re paid for and you’ll not go far wrong.”

Where’s that thinking now? Certainly not in the fury over work experience for the young unemployed.

On behalf of youngsters in need of a leg up, others are crying “Foul!” They insist kids will learn nothing but submission to exploiting capitalism.

Not true. If nothing else, they’ll learn what it is to get up early enough in the morning to be punctual, bright eyed and willing to work day after day. Whether they feel like it or not.

And that’s a valuable lesson, because that’s what a job will be when experience helps them clinch one.

Where else will they learn that – from daytime telly?

It won’t solve all of our difficulties. It won’t even solve all of one of them. It was never meant to.

But it will take one small, possibly faltering, step towards meeting part of a burgeoning problem for young people ill-equipped for the world of work. How bad can that be?

Have your say

Little EM, what you say about plenty of charity work out there is true but you have got to eat and pay the rent and you can't do that on charity work.
We need a job with a wage.

Posted by Danleo on 10 March 2012 at 12:14

Little EM, what you say about plenty of charity work out there is true but you have got to eat and pay the rent and you can't do that on charity work.

Posted by Danleo on 10 March 2012 at 08:56

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