Saturday, 25 February 2012

Experience - worth more than pay?

About 10 years ago emerging optimistically from the closeted world of education for the first time I became aware of something rather dispiriting. Its ink barely dry my shiny new degree certificate suddenly seemed to be rendered worthless by one simple word.... 'experience'

It seemed I possessed none, or at least not enough for a junior position temping in an office. I was told this again and again that I needed 'experience' usually by some suited and booted person my own age who had the nous to get straight out into the workplace rather than mess around doing something as pointless as a degree in sociology.

Eventually I managed to get a break, courtesy of my local council's temp bank, but only after a long time doing things from weighing out bags of onions to stuffing junk mail in sacks. At the time I reflected that for people in my position experience was the new pay. The internships which became a rite of passage for many graduates were symptomatic of this logic, the logic which decreed that experience in itself was now a valuable commodity and therefore its own reward displacing pay.

Strangely we had the whole debate on internships not so long ago, which concluded that they were in fact a bad thing being just a touch exploitative now we have another debate over unpaid work this time at the opposite end of the scale.  

Watching the debate on the news media it seems no one has really linked the two, possibly as internships represent privilege just as much as they do exploitation. A number of those who can afford to work for free ultimately get rewarded with a passport to sought-after jobs that their less-well-off, or less well connected peers become shut out of.

whilst this social divisiveness doesn't seem so much an issue at the other end of the scale, in fact you can even argue that by providing opportunities to the least well off it is closing the gap the big problem with both schemes is that they accept the logic that for those without, or lacking it 'experience' is worth more than pay.

 If these schemes really did take root then the expectation will be that if people will do them for free, for experience, then there is really no need to pay for other people to do the jobs. Like internships the expectation that a period of unpaid employment is required before an offer of paid work is made can then become de reigeur.

 This is all the more problematic with entry-level jobs as it is not a case of exploiting the children of elites who are financially well off, but who wish to climb to the top of the ladder, it is exploiting the poorest and most vulnerable. It is this which leaves a sour taste and if someone is making a profit from the free-labour then it is even more distasteful.

I should point out here that I once flirted with SWP ideals, even going as far as accepting a SWP sticker of a clenched fist from a freshers fayre in 1998 proudly sticking it on my guitar alongside a Terrorvision sticker. However, only a few years later I could be found vigorously scrubbing both off.

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