Escaping Costa: when will our careers actually start?

In his race to the start line, our resident overqualified barista Josh Adcock looks ahead: when and how will he eventually escape the daily grind of Costa Coffee?

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Numeracy, literacy, basic work-place competency. These are just words. Words that the government has chosen to trumpet as the solution to the high number of unemployed and under-employed young people in the post-recession, 21st century British workplace. Low-paid apprenticeships, lasting six months or more, and culminating in an approved BTEC qualification, and possibly, possibly, resulting in a job paying the minimum wage, are a part of the solution. Because there are so many jobs out there for people with the right training. Seem like a lot of hoops to jump through though? Well, tough, because, if you want to work at ASDA you need solid previous experience of carrying items from one place to another place and then organising or sorting those times, and lifting them up, onto the shelves, and then walking away without all of those items falling over and killing a customer, or manager. And there’s nothing substantial that any government can do about it, like forcing a higher minimum wage which rises above inflation and above relative pre-recession levels, or forcing employers to pay apprentices the minimum wage, or capping the bonuses of CEOs and higher management so that there’s more money to go around to hire more employees on the minimum wage. No, none of that can be done, clearly.

So, why do people persist in agitating the government, criticising their actions and those of businesses, when there’s clearly nothing to be done but gritting your teeth and grabbing the mop bucket? Graduates, as we’ve already established, must learn that they have to start at the bottom and work their way up. And that means from the very bottom.

In my time out since graduating from university, I’ve gotten down and dirty working at Costa, grinding beans, sweeping up rubbish and greasing the metaphorical wheels of the capitalist system. And what I’ve learnt is that in order to get by you have to get down on your knees and grovel, to the corporations, the public, and government policy, to earn your £6.50 an hour; you have to be willing to be called a liar by customers who give incorrect change, be told that the service is “disgraceful” in busy periods, and apologise for inadequately explaining what customers are buying when they half-heartedly throw that £50 note at you at the till, conversing on the phone with their business colleagues and concentrating on far more important things.

You see, you can’t just get qualifications which prove your intelligence and capabilities, do the work experience and internships for free, and then walk into the kind of job which could actually allow you to meet the income threshold required to start paying back your student loans. You need to prove that you’re willing to drag yourself through the dirt, or the coffee grounds, as the case may be, before you can even get a foot in the door. So, given that, into which door should I be aiming to lodge my foot? What is the next step after working at Costa? ……..

This is a question I have been asking for some time.

Well, I recently received a 10p per hour pay rise, for my good service, and for that I graciously and emphatically threw myself at the feet of my manager and praised his generosity. As for the next step toward becoming a true, card-carrying member of the besuited middle-classes, rather than a name-tag carrying, uniform wearing member of the under-employed classes, I’m sure that McVey and her masters will light the way, and reveal our next step, in due course. I have faith in the current government’s ability to turn my latte-making skills into a viable salaried job with a major company, and a desk. And a chair, which I don’t currently have at Costa. How could anyone question our glorious coalition-overlords, I mean political leaders, who so wisely set the minimum wage at a generously lunch-sized £6.31 per hour?

There is, apparently, a plot to move towards a higher minimum wage, a ‘living wage’, which will no doubt push up business’ costs, squeeze profits, and reduce the available pool of jobs for the desperate jobseeker. Or it could make push the pendulum of fate back towards the the workforce, and rebalance the imbalance between labour and capital. But, you know, probably not, because only the liberal media says that.

And, in any case, the predicament is not the government’s fault. If they’ve managed to climb the slippery ladder, perpetuating their own culture and power within circles of influence, surely everybody should be able to do the same. It’s not as though anyone in the cabinet got where they are today due to their exceptional familial connections. So, why can’t any of the job seeking graduates without blue blood out there accept that the road to bourgeois contentedness necessarily involves physical labour and the shedding of personal pride, working in a job which permits only a half an hour break in shifts of up ten hours?

I know that by humbling myself in front of the great corporate empires of our nation I will, in time, prove myself worthy of advancement. Perhaps a promotion which will eventually culminate in a manager position, which shouldn’t be too stressful, with a salary nearly the same as that of the graduates who get on grad schemes straight out of university. It’s not quite what my naive 19-year old self thought an arts degree from a prestigious university would culminate in, admittedly, but I should be proud of myself for it, nonetheless.

So, what can we finally say for McVey’s thought-through comments in January? The coffee business is booming, the staff turnover is high and you’d be better off making lattes than spending your dole money buying them. Work for Costa. Learn a trade. Do an apprenticeship on top of your useless degree. And above all: fear not, graduates of the twenty-first century. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is the harsh neon of a store-front illuminated logo on a provincial high street or shopping centre. The big chains will take us in and embrace us fondly with the offer of a scarce few low-paid jobs, zero-hours contracts and casual labour. And they won’t even care that we foolishly threw all of our future earnings away on getting a degree: they won’t even notice. The recession is coming to a close and the international business megastars are always growing and setting up shop, colonising new territory in the name of profit. And we, the graduates of Britain, can follow in their wake, picking up the cellophane and sweeping up the spilt coffee beans.

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