Memoirs of a job-hunting man, part two: back in the DHSS
Of course, it’s no longer called the DHSS- it has become DWP, the Department for Work and Pensions. Do those two things really belong together, I wonder?
Anyway, about six years ago I was at the Jobcentre signing on. The young lady called me over to her desk; she signalled her contempt by avoiding eye contact, keeping her very important gaze fixed on the computer screen.
‘You were supposed to sign on last Friday’ she said briskly. ‘What happened?’
I explained that I had been away at a job interview on the Isle of Wight, and I had already notified the Jobcentre that I would not be able to attend on my normal day. I had also rung them earlier that morning and been assured that it was okay for me to call in today. Which I did.
I had expected a few questions about the interview: how did it go, what sort of job was on offer, where did you see it advertised, etc…but the young lady ignored my comment and simply said ‘Where’s your job search?’
I produced a bundle of print-out leaflets from the Jobcentre’s own computer system. ‘These are last week’s’ she snapped. ‘You should have some up-to-date ones’.
She continued typing, not once bothering to look at me; eventually she stamped and dated my jobsearch booklet, to confirm that I had attended and signed on. Instead of handing it over with a pleasant smile, and a remark wishing me good luck following my recent interview, she merely left it lying on the desk. I wasn’t sure if I had finished or not.
I had also approached the jobcentre several times to ask about help with the cost of travelling to the Isle of Wight for an interview, but they told me that the I-o-W was actually in the Channel Islands, not part of the UK at all, so they were not required to help.
Let us move forward to 2016; I find myself once more unemployed, and dependent on the state to pay my bills. Except now, instead of ‘Jobseeker’s Allowance’, I am being issued with something called ‘Universal Credit’ which almost sounds like something I am expected to repay after twelve months, with the appropriate amount of interest. And to qualify for this payment, I have agreed to spend 35 hours each week looking for work, using the Government’s ‘Universal Jobmatch’ website.
Like so many other government initiatives, this grandly-titled internet portal is an expensive sham, designed to spread misery and confusion among the nation’s unemployed. A typical jobsearch involves me logging onto the system (twelve-digit code, followed by personal password) and then selecting a job title and preferred location.
The system helpfully comes up with all the relevant job adverts; however, after a few minutes, you realise that there are eight listings with the same job title, all appearing through different recruitment agencies. Then, when you click on one of these adverts, you find yourself being redirected between five or six different agencies: thus, the Universal Jobmatch site sends you to the UK Staffsearch website, which then sends you to Totaljobs, which sends you on to Adzuna which redirects you to the CV-Library website which sends you on to Indeed-dot-co-uk which eventually dumps you on the floor at Reed recruitment. The same job details have appeared on each of these separate websites, but any attempt to ‘Apply’ simply results in a wild goose-chase across the shimmering reed-beds of the interweb.
And it is not unknown for one of these lengthy courtship dances to come to a grinding halt when the website announces that ‘Sorry, this vacancy has now been removed’.
The typical job adverts now include a catalogue of stock phrases; it seems that every job now calls for candidates who have excellent IT skills, have excellent communication skills, and are able to work effectively on their own as well as part of a team. Some adverts state that ‘successful candidates will be qualified to BSc/MSc/PhD level’ (which sort of suggests that these are equivalent credentials).
One advert says ‘We are looking for a PhD-level qualified Chemist to work on organic synthesis to pharmaceutical standards.’ Well, do they want a PhD or not? And are they actually making pharmaceuticals or not? I remember one of my colleagues at work asking if she could enrol on a PhD course. The managing director was very pleased at this display of initiative, and cheerfully approved her request; all she had to do was find a suitable project and secure sponsorship funding from various funding bodies. He then announced that he would be glad to endorse her work, provided that ‘you come up with something which we can exploit on a commercial basis within a few months.’
But, I thought, surely the whole point of Doctoral research is to identify some discovery that nobody else has found; and the chances are that anything commercially viable is already being examined – in great detail – by workers at other firms, armed with better labs and bigger budgets.
And excellent communication: does everybody have excellent communication skills, I wonder? When I was a spotty schoolboy, we never had lessons in ‘communication skills’. We didn’t have a telephone at home, and we never had computers at school (I think my Dixons electronic calculator (with its red LED display) was the most advanced item of technology in the entire building). Since I only managed a grade ‘B’ in my English O-level exams, perhaps it would be fair to say that I have mediocre, rather than excellent communication skills.
And one final hilarious observation: today, I spotted a job advert for a Purchasing Assistant, paying sixteen grand a year. The advert included a vast catalogue of requirements, and ended with a flourish: “The role’s application closing date will be 18/04/2016 or until enough applications have been received.” Reassuring, eh?