Category Archives: media

I’m a journalist, I don’t do research

Sigh. I know that the tabloids have a particular point of view to push, but really, do they have to be so bad at looking at facts? The Express today tells us of the shameful 1.6 million who have never held a job. It’s a way of life that the tax payer is paying for, they cry.

Well, except it isn’t. For one thing, this is DWP research into who has never had a job – and has NOTHING to do with people claiming benefits.  There is nothing in their research that says that these people are claiming benefits. Nothing.

700,000 of those people are between 16 and 24 and could, given the number of university places, mostly conceivably be in education of some kind and living off mum and dad. Given that over 300,000 graduate each year, there should be around 1million in university. Add that to those in college, doing A-levels or NVQs and look at the number that don’t work at this time of their life because studying is important and they are able to support themselves, and you will probably find that the 700,000 covers all of them. Well, some.

Because recent graduates can’t get work. There were over 335,000 graduates this year.  Over 30,000 of these have been unable to find work since they graduated. Oh, and those 200,000 18 year olds who couldn’t get a uni place this year may also account for the 300,000 rise in the number who have never held a job compared to last year.

So, turning to the 800,000 above the age of 24, where you usually find people out of education and in the workplace. Well. There are nearly 10million people who are ‘inactive’ in this country – some are carers, some are stay-at-home parents, some don’t need to work, some are students, some are disabled and unable to work. I think that conceivably, these reasons might account for the other 800,000 people too.

According to the ONS, employment is up 286,000 on last year (although 210,000 less than two years ago) so clearly, more people are finding work. Who, exactly, are these hundreds of thousands out of education living off benefits?

Well, we have over 1.7million people claiming Disability Living Allowance who are of working age (16-64).  Perhaps some of these people have a disability that does not allow them to work, and has never allowed them to work. After all, there are 75,000 people under 25 who claim DLA.  There are also 2million stay-at-home mums. It’s possible that these are making up the majorty of that 800,00 figure.

Again, I’d like to point out that the DWP never said any of these people are on benefits. I’m sure quite a few are. I’m not saying some people have never worked out of choice as they are happier living off benefits. I’m sure there are. But I don’t think it’s 1.6million. This number proves nothing other than there are a lot of people in education and other people can’t find a job, or can’t work due to some condition or situation. And sometimes I wish that journalists wouldn’t go for the big headline when it’s so easy to disprove.

Educated to degree level

Another story from The Guardian (it’s the paper I read every day so you’ll just have to get used to a lot of the links being from there) has made me think again about the myths we are peddling to teenagers. Yesterday we look a little at the financial myths that graduates are fed by the media. Today I want to look at the myths peddled by schools on the advice of the government.

Nearly 190,000 A-level students have missed out on a university place due to unprecedented demand. Fair enough, you may think. Labour spent a lot of its time saying that they wanted 50% of young people to go to university, this is just simple supply and demand.

Except a few things are troubling me. One is this quote from Kenton Lewis, a student recruiter at the University of London, who said that students should “look at applying for slightly less competitive universities”. Hang on. I thought the point was that ALL universities were competitive this year. Otherwise there may have been less than 190,000 students without a place. And it’s not like students who are predicted three Cs are all applying for courses that require three A*s. Plenty of students with top grades have not got a place due to ‘competitiveness’ and why in hell should they lower their standards? They worked hard, they got top marks – anything at C and above in A-levels is a considerable accomplishment – and they couldn’t get a place.

Not only that, but they couldn’t get a place in clearing. Why should they want to shift their focus from Warwick to Kent? Why should they expect less than what they gave?

The other thing that concerned me was the story of one of the students, who, when ringing up a university to inquire about Clearing, was told that as a domestic student there was no place available. Had she been an international student, she may have got in, and paid the higher fees to do so. Again, fair to a certain point. Universities have to fund themselves somehow and the givernment isn’t exactly about to cough up. But there should be places, and not quotas. If a domestic student rings about Clearing and you have a place, you give it to them providing they meet the requirements. Because being able to pay higher fees isn’t a requirement for most courses (alas, it is for a lot of universities but hopefully you see my distinction).

Finally, and I promise this is my last rant, the issue that the last student found: “After I missed my grades, there was a lot on the news about the government wanting people to take up vocational courses and apprenticeships, or set up their own business. But , having spent two years looking at university courses, none of these really appealed to me.”

The government pushes students towards university through schools and career services, potentially because it looks good in country comparisons, it means that universities can fund themselves and stop asking for government money, and because graduates will earn more over their lifetime than non-graduates and therefore pay more tax. But it doesn’t provide enough places for all these students to actually go to university. It’s not like next year the 190,000 will be able to get in – they’ll be facing another 750,000 students wanting to get in as well.

For all they talk about apprenticeships and vocational training, far too few students are being pushed towards these. And even fewer are being told that it’s ok to go out to work at the age of 18, that you can have a good career path, that people won’t look down on you.The majority of jobs do not require a degree.

This is partly the government’s greed and pride. But it’s also the unnecessary standards that employers have when recruiting. Every single position I have ever applied for has requested ‘educated to degree-level’ and sometimes even asked for a specific grade. But none of the jobs that I have done have required anything I did within my degree. You can argue that degrees also bring maturity and a way of working with different people – I argue that plenty of 18 year olds have this skill as well. Experience, common sense and enthusiasm are far greater assets to have in a job than a degree.

Until employers stop this arbitrary condition of degree requirements, until the government starts pushing vocations and apprenticeships as fervently as degrees, we are always going to end up with hundreds of thousands of disappointed 18 year olds wondering why it didn’t work out when they did everything right.

The Graduate

A report, commissioned by Endsleigh and conducted by Demos, has come up with a few interesting opinions and beliefs from the class of 2010, as they are calling it.

One of these, that the Guardian highlights, is that over half of the current graduating year (53%) believe that they will be able to buy a house/flat within 5 years of graduating. However, only 19% of 25 year-olds are home-owners, which leads me to believe that 34% of graduates have failed to learn anything about reality in their years at university.

This is, of course, not their fault. By their own admission, most go into university to learn more about a subject, become more independent and to learn more about life. What it doesn’t teach you about is working life and the rewards/hardships that go with it. And for that I put some of the blame on the media and some on the Careers Services. My main issue that most graduates are looking for graduate jobs. They have been told that they will receive structured training, that the starting average salary for them is £25,000, that they are the future leaders of the company.

But the large employers that have all these things make up just 15% of the graduate job market. SMEs (Small/medium enterprises, or those organisations with less than 500 employees) make up 60% of the workforce in the UK. So the large companies may have a lot more graduate jobs each but there are more SMEs, and therefore the majority of graduate jobs will be with them.

Why do we not hear about SMEs and graduates? Why do the majority of graduates not even think about going to SMEs first, but save them until they have exhausted the Milkround? You can argue that it has to do with the lesser salary, the lack of corporate mobile phones, the fewer benefits, the lack of any structured graduate training. I like to blame these guys.

Whether you agree with me or not, you cannot deny the sheer power of AGR’s press office. They are amazing, churning out stats from the same reports over several months to create a never ending tide of scare stories for graduates. 70 graduates competing for every place, they proclaim. Carl Gilleard is bloody everywhere, proclaiming on A-Levels, jobs, skills, education, anything to do with graduates. Except his organisation focuses mainly on the 15% of graduate employers (they have an e-membership for SMEs but a quick flick through their membership list shows an impressive slant towards the big guns of employment like Proctor and Gamble etc).

This is why I think he needs to at least redress the balance. When I was graduating, I didn’t think there were careers for graduates outside of these large organisations. I had absolutely no clue that smaller organisations hired graduates, and gave them training and development opportunities most grads on these big schemes would die for. I was lucky. I found this out, although I found it out without the help of my Careers Service or any other service other than Google. And I had to go through Work Experience to get my low paying job (£16,000) of Junior Account Executive in a tiny PR firm. I don’t think my path is uncommon.

So why the hell does no one talk about the ‘hidden’ graduate jobs that are out there? Maybe the truth of the matter is that £150 a week experience to get a £16,000 position is not the ‘sexy’ aspiration that the government want to show people who will pay £3,225 a year for university. Face it, any maths student will say that it just doesn’t add up.