Tag Archives: Manchester

Over-worked, under-paid and over here

14 Dec

Even though I’m aware of unpaid internships and I appreciate the value they can add to a CV, I am still amazing, even appalled, about the way some companies are taking advantage of the situation faced by so many people.

And it’s not just big businesses that are cashing-in on the current economic climate. Even charities are banking on people’s desperation to get that first step on the employment ladder.

Gone are the days where endless photocopying and tea-making skills were honed in the office (thank goodness!)  and instead unpaid internships offer genuine ‘at the chalk-face’ experience so highly sought after by prospective employers, but at what cost?

A former classmate of mine wrote this article about the effects this very situation is having on the people of Manchester. It made for interesting reading.

My experience

Unpaid internships were brought to my attention about 18 months ago. As seasoned justanotherwannabehack readers will know, a key element of my degree course was an internship.

I naively thought (hoped) that with such experience under my belt I would find it easier than other graduates to get a job.

It didn’t happen. And after numerous voluntary roles, diploma studies and futile job searches, I’m no further down the employment path, just more qualified and a bit poorer. And working in a restaurant. But I’m not alone.  

And it’s this hunger to get into graduate employment that drives so many people to take on grossly unfair internships.

Unemployed: more people desperately seeking work experience, but at what cost?

Typical internship

Take this advert, for  an Income Generation Internship with MyBnk. It is unashamedly a six-month, full-time, unpaid internship.

It’s located in London (naturally) and states that although the internship is unpaid, travel expenses (up to £10 per day) and a lunch allowance (up to £4 per day) is provided.

This equates to a maximum of £14 in payment for a typical eight-hour working day. The national minimum wage stipulates that a worker (over 21) should receive at least £6.08 an hour  but in this instance the lucky recipient of what is being sold as “a fantastic stepping stone into a career in the charitable, education or youth work sector” will be earning the princely sum of £1.75 an hour.

Based on a 40-hour working week amounts to £70. Min wage = £243.20.

During the course of the six-month placement equals £1820 (assuming no holiday or sick leave was taken, which again I’m assuming is unpaid.) Min wage = £6323*

Which if calculated pro rata means that would equal £3640. Min wage  = £12646. (However this would need additional calculations factored in to take into consideration London weighting.)

What an absolute disgrace.

Unless you have a base in London and can afford to live off a dependent other (parents/guardians/partner) you’re buggered.

The list of key skills and responsibilities are as long as any I’ve seen for a ‘real’ job. They are succinctly described as such:

Your responsibilities will touch on all aspects of income generation at MyBnk (fundraising, local authority & government contracts, direct sales and corporate engagement).

I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds pretty much like a job as opposed to a work experience stint.

I think that at the end of the lengthy list of key skills it should read: must have access to a big pot of cash.

Financial concerns aside, I appreciate that an internship will equip someone with a very valuable skillset which may prove to be the deciding factor in getting a job in the future. However as I, along with many other young people in the UK, have found out that’s not necessarily enough.

Indeed the advert eludes to this by adding : Please note we cannot guarantee a job offer at the end of the 6 month programme.

This is not a hate campaign aimed squarely at MyBnk, it is merely an example. There are many other places that are advertising similar schemes which seem to replace paid workers with a near-constant stream of underpaid, over-grateful wannabe-workers.

What next ?

What I worry about it whether the jobs market will expand in the near future and open its doors to trainee-level applicants. Not only that, but whether companies will be willing to put their money where their mouths are and actually stump-up for its high calibre workforce in waiting. I really hope so.

Ready and waiting: the future workforce... and they want paying

For now it’s tea, crumpets (I decided to splash out), more job-hunting and Christmas shopping. Yay!

Here’s to a happy and prosperous 2012.

*Figures based on minimum wage earnings for over 21s. Six months averaged to 26 weeks.


Unpaid internships and the minimum wage: when will all workers get a fair deal?

4 Oct

Having spent the last week gallivanting about the countryside and mini-breaking with friends, the inevitable day came when I had to get back to my normal routine of waitressing and applying for jobs. And today was the day.

After an incredibly long and busy eight-hour shift with no breaks (does this make me an illegal worker?) I gratefully tucked into the mountain of food placed before me by my parents.

Although running around buckling under the weight of a heavy tray, interpreting Starbucks-esque drinks orders (a grande Americano is just a large black coffee in Wigan love) and taking varying amounts of abuse from customers is not an ideal way to spend a day, I am lucky in many respects. For one, I’m paid the national minimum wage.

The minimum wage was introduced in 1999 by the Labour government and stated that workers must be paid at least £3.60 an hour, with under 22s being paid no less than £3. Now 12 years on it stands at the princely sum of £6.08 an hour, however increasingly employers are finding ways of exploiting legal loopholes in order to pay workers less than or, in some cases, no wage at all.

The debate regarding unpaid internships has rumbled on for some time. Back in April 2011 the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, introduced a social mobility scheme with the aim of setting a level playing field for everyone, instead of the pick of the internships being reserved for a select few.

Nick Clegg: sentiment vs reality

He’s quoted within the article saying: “For too long, internships have been the almost exclusive preserve of the sharp-elbowed and the well-connected. Unfair, informal internships can rig the market in favour of those who already have opportunities.

“We want a fair job market based on merit not networks. It should be about what you know, not who you know.”

The sentiment and rhetoric is spot-on, however I fear that it has fallen on deaf ears in the majority of cases. At a time when companies and businesses are tightening their belts and people are desperate for an edge in the jobs market, it’s something that’s not going to happen any time soon.

This was highlighted in this week’s Panorama, All work and low pay.  The programme really hit home as most of the examples used have happened either to me or one of my friends.

The example of the ‘chuggers’ being expected to do a day’s work for free as part of the application process reminded me of friend’s ‘interview’ for  job. At an interview you expect to be given the opportunity to sell yourself (so to speak) not be the recipient of a highly-charged sales pitch. However my friend – let’s call her Jess- experienced just that. She was deposited in a suburb of Manchester and expected to door-knock on her own for eight hours before being picked back up by the company to review her work.

Jess was understandably freaked out at what was being expected of her, and being left alone in a slightly dodgy area. In the end she did what any girl does when in a predicament – rang her Dad. He did a 60-mile round trip to pick her up from what she describes as “the worst employment experience of my life.”

As a budding journalist, or wannabe hack if you will, I’ve been at the receiving end of unpaid editorial internships. They come with the promise of an amazing portfolio of work at the end to show to prospective employers, which is true, you do get a decent body of work by the end of it. But is it truly worth busting a gut for weeks/months on end to have a handful of published articles? Sadly yes. If it means taking one tiny baby step forward towards every wannabe hack’s dream – a paid journalism job, then it seems to be a sacrifice you must be willing to take.

The last segment of the programme discussed the idea of paying for an internship. To most people it seems absurd to part with your own hard-earned cash to be out-of-pocket by the end of it. But I can relate to his story, as I did it too.

I graduated in 2010 from the University of Hull’s politics department in 2010, having studied British Politics & Legislative Studies . I completed an internship at Westminster in the academic year 2008-2009.

Unlike my other classmates who worked for MPs or peers, I went down the journalism route (naturally) and worked for the House Magazine , the in-house magazine for Parliament. And unlike my classmates who were given £5 a day in lunch vouchers and London-based travel expenses, I was lucky enough to be salaried. As my boss at the time said: “It’s just not right to have you work for us that long and not be paid.”

However I watched as many people scraped together what money they could and made desperate calls home for emergency funds from the Bank of Mum and Dad to cover rent and utility bills. Although it was an amazing experience to be rubbing shoulders with the Westminster villagers,  the financial pressures of covering the hefty price-tag of course fees (half-price while on placement) whilst working for free put a lot of friends under enormous pressure.

It’s ironic that the legislators who brought into effect the minimum wage, so flagrantly disregard it.

So although I complain about my long waitressing hours, I should be, and am, grateful that I get paid a fair, if minimum, wage.

Working 9-5 (what a way to make a living)

26 Sep

Dolly Parton wasn’t too keen on the daily grind of working 9-5, and as someone who doesn’t have a Monday-Friday job, I’m a mere wannabe hack  after all, I miss out on all the things that folks like Dolly have to do.

One definite advantage Ms Parton might comment on is not being stuck in rush-hour traffic. I don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn and battle it out whenthe traffic starts jumpin’ on the morning commute.

Fellow commuters are sleep-deprived, cranky at having to be awake at such an ungodly hour and the thought of being squashed together with other people sardine-style.

If you’re lucky enough to sit down this may involve balancing precariously on the edge of a seat while the next person elbows you as they read the Metro. But if you fail to grab the last seat and are left standing (bad times) you may have the delight of becoming intimately acquainted with someone’s armpit. Joy.

Rush hour commute: not quite at Indian levels... yet

Another advantage is you don’t have a nightmare of a boss who never gives you credit for the hard work you do. You don’t clash with work colleagues because, quite simply, you don’t have any.

Flexi-hours come into their own as a wannabe. Lie-in? Go on then. Gourmet-style breakfast instead of a rushed bowl of cornflakes? Of course, you can’t work without eating properly. All day pyjama session? Why the hell not? Sneaky 90-minute lunch break, well, because it’s you….

Sounds like a dream. But in fact like sick days, which you can’t truly appreciate if you really are unwell, being a wannabe instead of an actual player isn’t as good as it sounds.

You may not have to get up really early, but when you do, what do you actually do? Pottering around in your PJs until 11am (or all day, let’s face it we’ve all done it) may feel like a guilty pleasure, but what happens when the novelty wears off? Then it’s time to face up to the fact that you’re a grown woman without a job wearing a novelty, albeit comfortable, elasticated flannel suit. Nice.

Flannel lover: Bridget Jones, champion of pyjama-wearing

As someone who has done the London and Manchester rush-hour commute (often wedged between a Chinese tourist and a greying businessman) I long to get back in the game. When I wasn’t clinging to the edge of a seat or a handrail, I enjoyed people-watching. Whether it was imagining what job they did, coming up with editorial ideas, or having a chat (yes this even happened in London!) more often than not I enjoyed rather than endured the daily commute.

Nightmare boss and annoying colleagues? Bring them on! There’s nothing more demoralising than not speaking to someone in a work capacity for an entire eight hours. You may not like Steph from admin, but at least you can say hello to her, and then talk to Debbie, who you do like…. about Steph.

And if you indulge in huge breakfasts and lengthy lunches everyday, the only change you’ll see is in your waist-band (which you won’t notice straight-away because you’re wearing pyjamas all the time.) It’s a dangerous cycle.

I look forward to the day when the alarm clock screams me awake, I only have time to grab a piece of toast before I head out of the door and I’m in the same boat as a lot of  my friends having a ‘nightmare’ commute. Then I’ll get the chance to spend eight hours with people at work before heading home, kicking my heels off and feeling satisfied at a job well done.

For now it’s job applications, buckets of tea and, of course, pyjamas.