Sunday, 11 January 2009

[122] So, I'm in the Sunday Times today...

Yesterday I received a phone call from My Man at the Sunday Times, asking if I would mind doing a phone interview for a piece they were planning on unemployed university graduates. I said I would oblige, then later spoke to a very nice reporter about 'my predicament'.

I laid out my story, about the move down to London, the job search, and my experience with unpaid journalism. I was asked about my opinions on the news about Government-backed internship schemes, and my thoughts about being a new worker in the current economic climate. I mentioned the Finnish girl, and her situation, although not too much.

I found out from My Man that my interview went to print and, in his words, it showed how pissed off I was with Gordon Brown and the welfare state. Eek, I thought, that's not what I said! I rarely profess concrete political opinions, especially on matters of legislation and organisation, being more of a philosophical, abstract type. But, of course, I wasn't so naive to overlook how my story could be used for an editorial agenda.

Here's what they put (full article here):

Mike Leader, who graduated in English from Birmingham University last summer, is still unemployed despite heading to London in search of a job.

'I applied for a few jobs in August and September but I didn’t hear back from any of those,' said Leader. 'Then I decided to go to the Jobcentre and apply for work there. I don’t think I’ve heard back from any job I’ve applied for there.'

He has even struggled to claim benefits amid the bureaucratic maze of Gordon Brown’s welfare system. 'I’m living with someone who has managed to get a part-time job in a coffee shop so I was turned down,' he explained.

Despite his degree, Leader remains unemployed. And, yes, his girlfriend, the coffee-shop worker, is also overqualified for her job: she is a graduate, too.

...Contemplating his unemployment prospects, Leader also welcomed the idea of internships, but he, too, pointed out one simple drawback. 'The bar will be raised for everyone,' he said. 'When you go for a job, you’ll be up against people who have had three months’ internship.'

Now, I mostly have no trouble with the nuts-and-bolts of their write-up. Admittedly, if I'm going to be honest with myself, I have not been 'actively seeking work' in a committed sense since November, when I signed up with an employment agency. Instead, I have been more active with my writing, as anyone who regularly reads this blog will know. Since then, I have been published on a handful of websites, and even in print, and I'm now tantalisingly close to being paid for freelance work as a result. However, I understand that for the purposes of this article, they would focus on the employment angle.

I suppose I object to the partisan stance they attribute to my experience with the Jobcentre. I believe one of the phrases I used to describe my application for Job-Seekers Allowance, and subsequent rejection, was 'a jungle of bureaucracy', which in retrospect is a little negative. Nevertheless, I did not 'blame' my inability to secure advice and help from the Jobcentre on Brown, or the current government. At the time, I was going to write an in-depth, guerrilla/gonzo-style piece about my application, but decided against it, as it seems too unthinkable in this world to be frustrated with a system, yet not profess an abject hatred for those in power. It could have too easily been interpreted as an anti-Labour rant.

As I said earlier, when it comes to day-to-day government activities, I am hesitant to comment. I believe that the systems and organisations we encounter most often (education, employment, health, local politics) are some of the easiest to lampoon or lambast. However, the prattling of radio pundits rarely take into account how complex the thinking and planning behind these daily structures are. They merely smear and criticise, as opposed to offering their own workable alternatives. The topic at hand straddles both employment and education, and displays double such complexity; a brief glance at the comments on the article's web-page reveals such desktop debaters, whose constructive contributions include 'if u want a job, create one'.

I feel a little uneasy being portrayed in that manner, even though I accept it is more editorial opinion than personal. It is mostly my fine-toothed, self-conscious approach that creates these worries. I suppose it is a testament to the English language that reported speech has such a flexible, artful capacity for commentary.

Something for the scrap-book, anyway. I was happy to help out with the article, and hope that it stimulates informed and open-minded discussion about the situation of recent graduates in the wider workplace. Hopefully, if there is a next time my name appears in the Sunday Times, it will be tied to something altogether more celebratory, and less downcast.

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