The hats are thrown in the air. Friends, teachers, parents and families drunkenly dizzy with the scent of achievement embrace each other joyfully. You feel a sense of hope. That you’ll finally make something of yourself and you’re pretty sure of it. Why? Because it’s been drilled into your skull that: “you will get good grades, get to university and light the spark to a dazzling career and future.” Everyone said it to you, every single year. Therefore there must be some grain of truth in it right?
But suddenly you find yourself down at the Job Centre Plus every two weeks clutching a green booklet to claim JSA. Every two weeks, you sit immersed in a sea of misery surrounded by similarly miserable and deflated people. This description has been the past year for me. In a nutshell.
The figures are in: according to the BBC the number of unemployed 16 to 24-year-olds in the UK, stood at 912,000 in the three months to January, a drop of 29,000 and the lowest level since 2011. Sounds good on paper, but what this statistic doesn’t show is the number of young people on unpaid internships and on zero-contract hour jobs. Whilst the overall figure of youth unemployment is dropping, the statistics also do not show how young people are coping with a cost of living that is ever increasing and lower salaries. But that’s the problem with statistics; they’re just numbers and we forget that there are faces, lives, thoughts and feelings behind these numbers.
Let’s put a face to these statistics with seven lies every graduate hears:
1. “Internships get your foot in the door” – this might be true, but for a lot of graduates the word “intern” is another word for “exploitation” and “cheap labour.” Whilst more and more graduates begin to challenge employers about the terms and conditions of their internships, there are still many graduates who are promised with a job at the end of an internship yet do not actually gain proper paid employment.
2. “We’re a rapidly growing business…” – I see this plastered on almost every single advertisement for graduate positions and/or internships. It sounds exciting on paper; a bustling office, lots to do and lots to learn. But let’s decode this: it basically means that they have no idea what they are doing yet expect you to somehow know what they are doing. Sound confusing? That’s because it is.
3. “Stay positive! Positive thinking helps!” – I’m a big believer in positive thinking but when you are unemployed and getting rejection emails on a daily basis, it is difficult to try and stay positive. Each unemployed graduate is in their own mindset and instead of being told “to stay positive” it’d be a lot more supportive if we heard this: “Something will come up. Don’t give up.”
4. Debbie from HR – a habit of mine was to ring up or email someone in the HR department of a company. I was usually met with a therapist-like voice which oozed words of encouragement and interest in my sad life. I would then enquire about a job or an internship and then talk about my achievements and skills. Debbie from HR would then proceed to say: “That sounds great! You’ve got the right skills.Send your CV over!” So the phone ends, I email my CV and a covering letter to Debbie from HR. A week later I receive a generic rejection email addressed to me as: “Dear Applicant.” As one of my good friends said; if you’re going to reject me, at least program my name into the email template.
5. “Richard Branson didn’t have a degree and he’s super rich!” – Yes, we know. And that doesn’t make us feel any better. Especially when we see photos of him in the Caribbean living it up on a yacht. But what people forget is that we are in a very different economic situation today.
6. “Everyone has a degree. They’re so overrated.” – No. Just no. This statement is often said to graduates by people who didn’t make it to university or really care about their education. Graduates are constantly reminded of how much student debt we have accumulated and how a degree is so overrated because everyone has one these days. Getting into university is still a pretty big deal for those who chose to stay on at school and work hard. Because we know how hard it is to actually do a degree, not drop out, do well and live to tell the tale.
7. “People who get JSA are lazy f*ckers.” – I hate using profanities in my blog, but I have heard and seen this said too many times to either myself or fellow graduates. JSA (Job Seekers Allowance) is money given to those who are looking for jobs; looking for a job has ironically become a full time job in itself. Therefore we are not lazy f*ckers. Being on JSA is one of the most demoralising, upsetting and unsettling experiences for people to do because of the stigma attached to claiming welfare in the UK. What people don’t realise is that at least we have a welfare system in the UK; in other countries people get thrown out in the streets left to fend for themselves.