On Guardian G2: Telling a young person to ‘Just get a job’ is like going to the Sahara and yelling ‘Just rain!’

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In a society where it’s considered rude to answer “yes” to the question “Does anyone want the last scone?” (especially if they’re at the next table, I’ve learned), it’s amazing how many people will happily go up to a young jobseeker, pick up their last shred of self-esteem and dunk it in their tea until it disintegrates into soggy clumps. My year spent blogging joblessness landed me a job, and doctorate-level knowledge of what not to say to a jobless youngster.

“Get a job”

Today’s youth has spent years chasing qualifications no one ever asks us about. The notion that algebra would ever be useful seemed fishy, but the grownups insisted: education, no matter how apparently arbitrary, leads to jobs.

But the minute we graduated, something switched in employers’ heads. The same generation who had us sit Sats and the 11-plus and the 12-plus and Sats again and mock GCSEs and real GCSEs and AS-levels and A-levels and BAs and MAs and MScs and PhDs decided education is an afterthought. Experience is what’s really important. Which none of us had, because we’d been busy pretending Romeo and Juliet weren’t just horny teenagers and Pythagoras wasn’t the most tedious bastard that ever existed.

We were told that education was a ticket to employment, when really it’s more like vague directions to the station.

We’ve all watched the Gen Y horror show unfold. We all know many entry-level positions are now filled with cycles of interns, that underemployment is cleverly hidden by internships or zero-hour contracts, that an unprecedented number of jobs created are part-time. By October last year, long-term youth unemployment had risen to four times the 2004 figures (oh, and tripled in the first three years of the coalition).

So telling a young person, “Just get a job” is not tough love. It’s like going to the Sahara, looking up and yelling “Just rain!” Which is weird. Stop it.

“You think you’re too good for a job at Costa”

Graduates expect too much. That’s the line – often stated as if it came out of the blue. After our American-dream style “You can do anything!” upbringings, apologies if it takes us a while to recover from the disappointment of realising it was all, well, a dream.

The “job snobs” snub acknowledges that traditionally competitive industries are double-locking their doors, while ignoring the fact that low-skilled jobs are as rare as a worm concussion; a branch of Costa in Nottingham received 1,701 applications for eight positions. Not to be outdone, Asda got over 2,500 applications for 300 jobs. They should give scratch cards out with applications to double your chances of a win.

It’s not arrogance, it’s the embers of optimism. Do you think snobbery comes easily to someone who’s rejected for a cleaning job for “not having enough experience”? (I knew I shouldn’t have put my mum as a reference for that one.)

Lest we forget, our parents and teachers asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, then demanded a ransom of education, good grades, experience and a charming interview manner. We’ve done what you asked, society! Release the jobs!

“You’ll never get a job if you think negatively”

Does anyone actually believe this hippy hogwash? That “positive thoughts” are a mystical good-things magnet? Sorry to shoot down those bluebirds that dress you in the morning, and put them in a pie, but positive feelings don’t attract positive events. They’re a result of them. Only actions matter – as long as jobseekers tweak their CVs for every job and turn up to interviews prepared and smiling, it really doesn’t matter if they’re dead inside.

Empathise. Don’t leap around shouting “Be positive!” like an inappropriate funeral director.

“Applying for Asda? But you have a degree!”

Damned if I do, job snob if I don’t. And thanks for reminding me that I’ve spent thousands of pounds to beg someone to let me stack their yoghurts.

“Have you tried doing an internship?”

Yes, I did partake in a few rounds of “Who can earn the least for longest?” but I had to fund my expensive habit of paying for things. Don’t prod a spot this sore. An internship is not a job, it’s a barricade dressed as a stepping-stone. Plus you’re bringing back bad memories – the excruciating awkwardness of parachuting into an office for a two-week internship can’t be overstated. Inside jokes whizz around you like Dementors, and any attempt to join in with a conversation is met with stares, as if you’ve just said, “Guys, look at this rash on the inside of my cheek! Look by TOUCHING!”

“Do something fun with all that free time!”

Free time? When your life is a cycle of applying for jobs, listening to crickets and crying into sponges, you don’t get to clock off.

Also, what fun is there for the jobless? Perhaps taking some sort of revenge on the Employed? Deliberately getting to the front of the Starbucks queue at 08:56 and saying “Umm … what’s actually in a latte?” Going to a pub on a Friday night and joining in some random work drinks, claiming to work in accounting and watch them pretend to remember the time we met at the water cooler?

Well I did, and I just felt silly.

Guardian Pass Notes – Generation Y: the demographic the budget forgot

My first Pass notes for the Guardian was about how Generation Y were left almost entirely out of the budget. Read it and weep.
Same old stuff: George Osborne with his budget case outside No 11.

Same old stuff: George Osborne with his budget case of broken dreams and orphans’ tears. Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett

Age: Newborn.

Appearance: A red box of broken dreams and orphans’ tears.

Oh dear, I’m not going to like this, am I? Well, it depends – are you a pensioner?

No. Do you have a job?

I’m applying for lots of them. Do you have thousands of pounds in savings?

Course I bloody don’t. Then no, you’re not going to like it.

Ugh. Lay it on me. It’s a budget “for savers”, and people with savings tend to be old people. In fact, scratch that – given that times are hard all round, people with savings tend to be rich old people.

I’m amazed a Tory chancellor would only cater to the old and rich.Indeed. This budget is an absolute dream for pensioners.

The ones who vote? Yes.

I’m pleased for them. Is there anything in the budget for young people? Yes! George mentioned young people in his speech, um, once. He claimed to have doubled the number of apprenticeships, and promised to “extend grants for smaller businesses to support over 100,000 more”.

Oh, that will help! How many unemployed young people are there again? More than 900,000.

What?! I thought unemployment had fallen? It has, but the numbers are a bit misleading. There’s been a dramatic rise in self-employment, as all those go-getters take matters into their own hands. But the number of employees has dropped by 60,000 – and there are 38,000 fewer young people in work now compared with a year ago.

Still … it’s nice for the old people. Very nice indeed – analysts are saying that changes to pension rules could lead to a massive surge in the purchasing of buy-to-lets, and guess who they’ll be renting them out to, for ever?

Us? Yep. For ever and ever.

So young people aren’t exactly a massive priority? Doesn’t look like it. A quick search in the budget reveals the word “young” is mentioned three times, whereas the word “pension” is mentioned 151 times.

I’m sad now. Don’t worry – they’re also cutting tax on alcohol.

Do say: “Cheaper beer and apprenticeships? Things are looking up!”

Don’t say: “Do a search on the words ‘heartless’ and ‘bastards’.”

Guardian G2: How unemployed young people see the internet

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When you’re unemployed, the world doesn’t look the same as it does for everybody else. Ads are taunting you, price tags are mocking you. If you have ever wondered why a jobless young person opens a seemingly harmless website and sighs, sobs or swears, read on – here’s what they’re seeing.

Words by . Produced by 


Guardian digital journalism scheme – a day in the life

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Still pinching herself that her blog about being jobless (may have) landed her this job as a trainee journalist, in our second instalment Erica Buist describes a typical day in which getting retweeted by blokes named Ricky from Reading take the rote out of the routine

Evian bottle on desk
‘Does this belong to you?’ – the question digital journalism trainee and her desk neighbour were too polite to ask. Photograph: Erica Buist

There is no typical day at the Guardian. The 10 trainees have wildly different backgrounds, skills, qualifications and jobs. We sit at different desks, go to different meetings, pitch and work on different ideas, projects and campaigns with different departments and flow between them all. The only typical thing is the messiness of my desk. There’s a near-empty capless Evian bottle that my workmate and I are too polite to throw away, each of us assuming it must belong to the other.

However, I will attempt to give an idea of what goes on once we bleep our way into the Kings Cross offices …

9am – Plonk myself at my desk. Yes, plonk. It’s way too early in the day to simply sit myself down with the grace of a smug ballet dancer. Somewhere between logging on and perusing the news for feature ideas, I blink in disbelief. I have a job. In 2014. At one of the only newspapers I never want to fling across a room. How?

I got hired on the Guardian digital journalism scheme because of my blog, How to Be Jobless. Flabbergasted that I wasn’t immune to the job crisis affecting a million other young people, many of them as or more qualified than me, I started blogging anonymously, hoping to turn my jobless bleatings into something that would entertain people in the same position. Somehow, it worked. A little community of jobless, underemployed and thoroughly peeved young people built up, we nicknamed ourselves the pyjama-army, or “pyjarmy”, and I became the unofficial voice of the jobless youth. I like to think I’m here because Alan Rusbridger liked my blog, but it’s just as possible he hated it and thought giving me a job might be the ticket to shutting me up.

10am – Morning conference. Open to all staff, people wander in and gather on the soft yellow sofas, chatting away. When word gets out that Alan has started speaking we all hush and lean in to hear. (It sounds like we’re in a big room – we’re not, Alan just has a very soft voice. Other bosses get “Kick me” signs stuck on them; it’s about time someone stuck a tiny microphone on Alan.) He tells us about the Guardian’s online performance the day before, and section editors announce their departments’ content for the day.

Sometimes, guests are invited to talk (off the record, so no details, sorry!) about their organisations. At my second ever conference at the Guardian, the guest was Steve Coogan. I didn’t get to speak to him but I hugged him with my eyes. I don’t think he noticed.

11am – On the best type of day, someone will say to me, “Here’s a topic. We need you to write something funny on it, by lunchtime.” I used to do standup comedy, but found I preferred not looking at the audience, especially in dank underground comedy clubs on weeknights when I had a perfectly good pair of pyjamas at home. Now, if I write something serious, I have to comb through it picking out the jokes like bits of gum stuck in a child’s hair.

1-2pm – Lunch in the subsidised canteen, which serves as much kale as you imagine the Guardian canteen would.

2-5pm – Apart from writing, editing, pitching and researching, the afternoon usually involves an informal meeting with colleagues, as there’s always a project to discuss.

Once I was in a meeting and I took a sneaky glance at my phone. I had a Facebook message from a friend: “Ricky tweeted your article!”

What kind of message is that? Who the hell is Ricky? I typed a reply.

“Ricky Martin?” I joked, “That’s nice of him.”

“Not Ricky Martin, Ricky GERVAIS.”

I don’t know why, but I burst out laughing. It seemed absurd, yet it’s quite ordinary. Ricky Gervais is just a bloke. Of course he reads a newspaper. Why wouldn’t he tweet a story he sees? Especially one that happens to be about a service that streams his shows.

Ironically, that article was a learning curve for me. I was shadowing the TV editor for a day and felt particularly ignorant as I don’t have a TV. Even though your job as a journalist is to try to be an expert in whatever you happen to be writing about, I told the editor I only had Netflix, so blog ideas were unnervingly scarce. After some mad research to familiarise myself with the minefield of weirdness that is British television, she said “Why don’t you write about the fact that you have Netflix, and no TV?”

The experience taught me something important: there’s always an idea (and sometimes a bloke from Reading will share it).

It’s easy to forget the reach you have when you go from your own blog to a Guardian one, because on the face of it, the procedure is the same. You fact check, you spell check, you consider the reader, you link to relevant pages and sources, you publish. You reply “thank you” to kind comments. You try to ignore or laugh off the abusive ones. You get the bus home.

Which I do, around 5:30 or 6pm. But today wasn’t a typical day, not even by Guardian standards. Because today I made a breakthrough. I shook things up. I took a stand.

I threw out that Evian bottle.