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Fingers out, on your bikes

Graduates must get used to the new job market and skill up.

So, yet more headlines about how there aren't any jobs for graduates.

It's not that I don't feel sorry for this lot - their youth and the decadent ease of life in the UK in the 2000s has left them unprepared for the harsh realities of the real world. But now they really need to get their fingers out and get on their bikes, metaphorically speaking.

When I left college in 1985, it was the middle of a recession. There were no jobs. Even friends who'd left just a year before had managed to get good white-collar jobs, but suddenly there was nothing. 

My 2.2 in Classics from Kings, London was precisely no use to anyone - it was a stupid degree to have done, in retrospect. I was effectively unemployable, and so I remained unemployed - for a year.

I wanted to work in book publishing, so I applied to every single book publisher in London and the South-East, had four job interviews and no offers. I then swallowed my pride and applied for jobs in accountancy - something I very much did NOT want to do. I forget how many job interviews, and at the end of it all, one job offer, which fortunately arrived the same week as a job offer in journalism, which I took. Thus was I saved from the professions. 

I'm not sure how many jobs I applied for altogether - well over 200 in the course of a year (every single accountancy firm in London, plus every newspaper, and on one particular day, 14 separate jobs) - and meanwhile, I used my own meagre savings to put myself through secretarial college, learning shorthand, programming and audio typing.

While applying for jobs, I worked as a temp secretary in a range of businesses, including the DSS and health service admin departments. In fact, when the accountancy and journalism job offers arrived, I had just sat the first paper of the Civil Service exam (the Civil Service was something else I didn't want to be part of), and it was my skills in typing, computers and programming that actually got me a job, not my degree.

Today's graduates are going to have to get real and realise they need to apply for every job going, not just the ones they want. Gone are the days of cherry picking - of getting a middling degree in a non-vocational subject and then becoming a commodities broker and being filthy rich for the rest of your life. This is no ambition for an educated person, and it's not what the public subsidises education FOR, either. The country needs doctors, nurses, engineers, scientists. To a lesser extent it benefits from creatives, but what it doesn't need is shedloads of graduates coasting for three years and then walking straight into the financial services industry.

The job market is awful at present, and of course it's depressing. But welcome to the real world, sunshine.


US women quit the workforce in droves

American women are leaving the workforce in their thousands in the face of economic stagnation

In the US, women are now leaving the workforce at the same rate as men and for the same reasons - the economic downturn, according to an article in today's New York Times. This is a complete change in the social makeup of the US. Since the 1960s, each decade has ended with more women in the workforce than there were at the start of it, but the position in the past couple of years is beginning to reverse.

It was formerly believed that women were dropping out to look after their children, following the motherhood movement, but this is apparently not the case - they are dropping out because they can't find decent paying work and - like men before them - they are unwilling to take major pay cuts.  

As factories lay off workers and new jobs open up but only paying a fraction of former wages, more women are choosing to stay home until they can find something better, placing a considerable burden on unemployment provision.

“While pay was rising solidly in the 1990s, you had women continuing to move into the work force,”  said Leonard Katz, a Harvard labour economist. But now wage stagnation is discouraging women from pursuing new jobs. 

The trend has important implications for the US economy because women bring home a third of the average household income, and only households with a working wife have seen real improvements in their standard of living over the past decades.

For more on this article, click here.  



Mid-30s angst

Workers in their mid-30s are far less content than older employees

The UK's Vodafone survey has found that older workers are happier than younger ones.

Apparently, those over 65 are the happiest of all, while those aged 30-45 are the most likely to suffer from 'mid-career depression'.

The differences between age groups shown in the report are quite striking - 97 per cent of workers over 65 feel 'enabled at their jobs', and 70 per cent of those aged 50 and over said they were fulfilled in their work. But only 50 per cent of 25-31-year-olds could say the same thing.

The 31-35-year-olds are the most negative, with 59 per cent of them feeling undervalued, 49 per cent of them saying they are unfulfilled and around 43 per cent being actively 'demotivated'.

The report concludes that an "inevitable disillusionment" appears to strike workers as they reach their 30s.

Nick Rand of Opinion Leader, one of the firms that conducted the study, said: "Our research showed that Generation Y (those born after 1980) is highly ambitious and wants to succeed in a shorter time span than ever. But with these new, higher expectations comes the risk of greater disappointment." It leads, he says to: "a feeling of mid-career depression brought on by the pressures of the family-life stage.

"This consensus did not come only from those currently in their early 30s but also from those more contented workers in their 40s, 50s and 60s who have emerged on the other side. By most, it is seen as inevitable."

I well remember that feeling of depression at work in my early 30s, that feeling of who am I and what the hell am I doing?

After studying hard at school and college, and gaining qualifications - playing the career game the way you're meant to - I excitedly entered the jobforce in my early 20s. Pretty quickly, I found that it was pants - you're ordered around by complete jobs-worths and given all the menial tasks to do. But you're young, you're fancy-free, you can live on a low salary because you have no commitments and you work your way through it.

By the time you hit your 30s, you've had a few promotions and you're into buying cars and houses and owning things, you expect there to be some sort of reward. 

But there isn't. This is the stage that it dawns on you that this is what you were struggling to obtain, and maybe it's as good as it gets. For every 20 workers there's only one manager. You thought you'd be that manager, but maybe you won't. Maybe you'll just be a drone like everyone else. Maybe you won't make the board of directors. Maybe, just maybe, life won't be all it was cracked up to be.

I didn't have children, and for child-free people it's bad enough, but anyone who becomes a parent quickly finds that the working world doesn't give a stuff if you feel lousy while you're pregnant or Jimmy's got flu today and you have to stay home. Devoting too much time to your family will cost you promotion, preferment and God knows what else, and as a woman, all that equality you thought you had counts for diddly squat - nine times out of ten it'll still be you that gets to take an unpaid day off work. 

Meanwhile, men who married women who were equals can often find themselves becoming traditional breadwinners in a way they hadn't anticipated. Once you get up to two kids, childcare probably costs more than one salary and couples either find themselves working long hours to pay for it or bite the bullet and one of them stays home (usually her). Trapped between up-and-comers on the rungs below, all of them packed with energy and enthusiasm, and career wallahs on the ladder above, keen to hold onto their positions, it can leave men in their mid-30s with a gigantic feeling of 'is this it?' Life in these years is a struggle.

But the truth is, yes, it probably is 'it'. It's in realising this - in accepting that maybe you'll never set the world alight after all and the best you can do is to provide for you and yours, that those of us in our 40s, and moving on into the 50s and 60s mellow out. By this age, we have learned a few tough lessons about life and the disappointments it affords. And we've learned to enjoy the quiet pleasures of having a loving spouse, kids that don't care how important you are, a coterie of sound friendships. 

I think that's a lesson that only comes with time, though, and the only cure for the mid-30s angst is to grow older. But they'll manage it, poor loves. After all, the rest of us have. 


Corporate world fails to catch up with changing cancer survival rates

A BBC article recently raised the issue of cancer survivors and the world of work.

With cancer survival rates improving dramatically, more and more people continue to work through chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but the working world takes little account of their special needs.

Over 90,000 people of working age have cancer in Great Britain, but the world of work hasn't altered its perspective from the time when a diagnosis of cancer was a death sentence.

Cancer sufferers naturally get very fatigued, partly due to the illness, partly due to the treatment, and require shorter days (the British work the longest hours in Europe, which doesn't help). They would also benefit from working fewer days a week and a long, gradual return to full-time working. The article highlights the case of one woman who, in the absence of a personnel department, devised her own schedule for returning to work but quickly overloaded herself - she ended up signed off with depression and only now, three years later, has she returned to full-time working.

It is indicative of how the male-dominated world of work still doesn't actually take account of how real people live - of the fact that women get pregnant and give birth, that people have children and need to pick them up from school or stay home to care for them when they are sick. There are few job shares available in the UK, and the provision for working from home remains paltry, despite study after study showing that people who work from home at least one day per week are more efficient than their full-time colleagues. The majority of part-time workers are women, and they have no right to equal pay. There is no national provision for childcare.

Still, at least the issue of cancer and work is now being raised, which is something. Though given the attitude to work and the materialistic culture in the UK, heaven knows how long it will be before there are any guidelines implemented.

For more details, read the article here.


Time to turn professional

Oof. Or, as the French say, ouf. We're knackered. But my wardrobe is a lot emptier now.

We did our 'vide-grenier' stall at the local craft fair this weekend, taking along CDs, videos, collectibles and clothing. Lots of clothing... We made about the same amount of money as last year - very gratifying, but also a tad embarrassing as people, just as they did last year, kept asking where my shop was and did I have a card. It's slightly galling to admit, therefore, that these were all MY clothes, that I sold several cubic metres-worth last year, and that this is still just the tip of the iceberg. Mmn.

So, what were people buying? (When I say people, of course, I mean women.) Well, the sequinned and beaded vintage cardis certainly drew them in, arrayed as they were around the walls so they would glitter from a distance, but this didn't do it - only one of them sold. Nor did blouses, shoes or trousers sell (too hard to try on in public?). But leather skirts, mink coats, mink jackets ("It hasn't got nits, has it?"), knitwear, vintage dresses - these went like hot cakes. And the odd vintage haori (a kind of short kimono). People also kept wanting the sari that was draped around the cheval glass, so in the end I sold it although it was meant to be set-dressing.

We made a chuck-out charity trip to Emmaus on the way back, having picked out a few last things for friends.


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