The Case of the Elusive Paid Job

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1aI’ve heard a great deal recently about economic recovery and job creation. Ireland’s unemployed should be optimistic, and if we’re not, well, who’d want to hire us with that attitude? All we need to do is ride it out, keep a positive outlook and before we know it we’ll all be upstanding citizens again, able to pay our bills without the weekly humiliation of social welfare.

I’d like to believe that, but I don’t see any evidence of it: all I see in the jobs pages are some high-tech, highly specific positions in large multinational companies, jobs that require qualifications and languages that very few Irish people possess, and an enormous, unshakable, mass of Job Bridge Internships.

Yesterday I looked up one of the main recruitment sites and put “Cork” and “admin/PA/secretarial” into the search engine. I got five results for paid jobs (not Jobs Bridge), four of which were: “Finnish Customer Service Associate”, “Polish Accounts Assistant”, “Logistics Administrator with Turkish or Hebrew” and “German SAP Rep”. The outlook is similar whenever I search for vacancies. I’m under no illusion, I fully understand the requirements of EU free movement of workers, and I don’t deny the right of any person to take up work in another EU member state, but I cannot see how these jobs are going to filter through to the vast majority of unemployed people.

The system implies it’s our own fault; Irish people didn’t learn the right skills, we should have been able to predict the future. We’re told that we’re living in a globalised world now, and it’s up to us to stay “relevant” to ever-evolving labour market requirements, requirements that now, seemingly, we are surplus to. We are in over-supply: cheap, expendable and easily substitutable.

The Irish unemployed, it has transpired, must be happy to do Job Bridge Internships. After all, we are the great unemployable, why wouldn’t we be satisfied to work a full week for our dole? We deserve it for not learning obscure languages or qualifying in high-tech areas that didn’t exist five years ago. Every second job advertised, that doesn’t require unreachable and prohibitive levels of experience – from cleaner and meat-counter assistant to teacher, solicitor and scientist – is a Job Bridge Internship.

When I was in university it was common for students to work in retail or as waiters or waitresses part-time to fund their studies. Now almost every low-paid casual job is a Job-Bridge that requires the lucky participants to be on the Live Register for three months, so I can’t see how students could possibly hope to work. It’s not just students: so many people I know in their late twenties and early thirties, people with post-graduate qualifications and years of work experience, have not only done Job Bridges but have had to compete with other similarly qualified people to get them. When I hear of a friend getting an actual, paid job, it’s like a miracle, and even then it usually comes down to personal contacts.

It’s difficult enough being unemployed without being told there are jobs just within reach, but only we do, x, y, z. The endless cycle of courses, up-skilling, talks with careers “experts” who have less of a clue than you do, jumping from one hoop to the next in the vague hope of landing one of these elusive paid jobs. I’ve got so many qualifications I would wallpaper my house with them. People say the unemployed are lazy but that’s not what I see: every day I see people trying to make something of their lives within a system that would rather they didn’t bother. The people who criticise the unemployed, and who say Job Bridge is a good idea, are those who have never had to look up the Fás website once in their lives.

If the government is serious about helping the Irish unemployed the first thing it needs to do is abandon Job Bridge. That way, employers might have at least some incentive to hire paid staff. After all, why would any employer waste money paying minimum wage when it can get the labour for free? An internship system, if it must be retained, should be for graduates or young people to gain specific skills and experience that would help them enter the labour market, and it must be tightly monitored. This is not what Job Bridge is: experienced people are taking internships because there is no other work out there, because being unemployed is soul destroying and because they genuinely want to be part of society rather than excluded from it.

Secondly, there needs to be some analysis on whether the jobs being created in the private sector are going to filter through to the 12% of us who remain unemployed in the midst of all this alleged economic optimism. We can’t all become Russian speaking call-centre operatives, bio-pharmaceutical experts or IT programmers overnight, and even if we did we might wake up and discover that those jobs have re-located to Bangalore. The jobs vacancies that I see could only ever be suitable to either a tiny proportion of the Irish unemployed or to foreign contract workers.

In short: show me the jobs; show me the jobs that will enable real people to pay their bills. Then I will celebrate.

Image courtesy of Young Workers’ Network.

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