Did you watch Channel 4’s Fairy Jobmother this week? It makes compelling viewing if you are a jobseeker yourself.
The programme follows the same tried-and-tested format of dozens of other Channel 4 programmes, as a blog in The Guardian has pointed out, where a hero figure arrives to rescue people in a difficult situation, exposes their faults, makes everyone (and the audience) cry, teaches them new life/business skills, leading up to an inevitable happy ending.
On Tuesday night’s programme three out of four people on benefits ended up being offered jobs. That is a 75 per cent success rate, but, if you ask me, completely disproportionate to what happens in real life. Had this not been a television programme with a supernanny for jobseekers doing a great deal of hand holding, the outcome would probably have been very different.
Employment expert Hayley Taylor, for all her straight talking – or maybe because of it – is quite endearing. But her waving a copy of The Daily Express at the four benefit claimants, while telling them Iain Duncan Smith, “the Head of Employment”, had said “there ARE jobs out there” but “people are being too selective about the jobs they are going for” infuriated me.
Of course we are selective about the jobs we go for. Not everyone is cut out to do every job. And if Mr Duncan Smith really said there are plenty of vacancies and it’s our fault we are not finding them, he has not been reading his own department’s stats on redundancies and companies’ spending cuts.
Every time I go to the JobCentre, my adviser looks up “publisher” and “journalist” on her computer for any relevant jobs in the area. Due to some inexplicable coding error on their system, this is what comes up:
Can Mr Duncan Smith honestly claim that if I am still out of work after four months and two weeks of intense search, it is because I was too picky about going for store cleaning manager jobs when my training and experience are in the media industry?
Former security guard Dave, in Tuesday’s Fairy Jobmother, had the best answer for that:
Taylor throws at her benefit claimants the sobering figure of £87 billion, which the UK government allegedly spends in welfare annually. Welfare is a broad term. It cannot mean the entire sum is being used on jobseekers’ benefits. With 2.46 million people currently unemployed, according to the Office for National Statistics, even if all of them were older than 25 on £67.50 per week, the math doesn’t add up.
I doubt guilt-tripping the unemployed for money being spent on them is effective either. Not all unemployed people are professional loungers, who would rather be supported by the government than actively look for work. Many have a genuine reason for being in the situation they are in.
Taylor says lack of self-belief is one of the most common characteristics she sees in those who have been unemployed long term. I empathise – the most confident types can easily start to doubt themselves after one too many rejections on the job front.
What one does for a living should not but does ultimately define one’s sense of self-worth.
I recently attended an event for journalists in London. In the registration form, I was reluctant to write down my occupation as “unemployed”, so I called myself “freelance journalist”. The problem with that euphemistic expression is that new people I meet at such events invariably look at my badge and ask:
“So what type of freelance journalism do you do?”
My answer, “Well, I’m actually unemployed at the moment,” is a guaranteed conversation killer.
It helps if the other person has a sense of humour and can react with a “Oh? That type of freelance!” accompanied by a suitable giggle or a wink. But, in this case, I was talking, for the first time, to a rather well-known investigative journalist I greatly admire, and I noticed her eyes glazing over after that..erm…revelation. My heart broke.
Should I have said, “I write for the Guardian…actually,” with a posh accent just to keep her interest? And why is it I felt so humiliated having to admit that I didn’t work, was desperately trying to work but couldn’t work because no one wanted me. The guilt again.
I could have told her I was a successful international sales manager with a long career in publishing, who speaks several languages, had jet-setted round the world, achieved amazing targets, esteemed and respected by customers and colleagues, etc. I could have told her I had a career break and trained as a journalist and passed all my NCTJ exams first time round with excellent grades, when I am not even an English native speaker. That I have a portfolio full of cuttings and have been praised for my writing by various other journalists. That I am proud to call myself a journalist, even if I don’t work for the Guardian.
But no. None of the past achievements seem to matter. Because I am unemployed. And that makes me into a nothing. And I must be doing something wrong because Mr Duncan Smith says so. Because I am not going for the cleaning jobs the JobCentre found for me. Because unemployment makes me feel guilty and s**t about myself all the time.
Guilt does not help a jobseeker move forward, as it is a self-defeating sentiment. Self-awareness perhaps, but never guilt.
Throughout the past few months ALL recruitment agents I have talked to have been saying one thing in common:
“Companies are being very specific about the type of experience they are looking for in a candidate. They want someone who has done exactly A, B and C; nothing deviating from that. They are very risk averse at the moment.”
That means that unless your past experience is a photocopy of what it says on the tin of their job description, you are unlikely to get the job. No employer wants to take chances gambling on your “transferable skills”.
Is it not fair to say then it is the employers who are being ‘selective’?
Taylor says motherhood gives you time management and prioritisation skills that can be applied to many jobs. In the fairy world she comes from maybe.
Fairy Jobmother has been in employment too long. Caring and lovable as she may be, she is, sadly, out of touch with jobseekers’ reality.