Monday 17 February 2014

The lucky baby-boomers and the unlucky unemployed

We had lunch with friends yesterday and the conversation touched on the baby boomers.  I remembered writing this blog last year but didn’t post it.  Perhaps I felt it was a rant and should probably rest for a while.  Having read it again – I think it is well-rested now, still a bit ranty, but here it is....

If anyone else tells me that the baby boomers were so lucky I will scream and scream until I am sick! I can tell you some of the things we didn’t have:

We didn’t take gap years – we went straight from school to further education or to work.  We got “jobs” – you went into work in the morning and came home at the end of the day and got paid. Sometimes you didn’t get paid very much, especially if you were being trained.  Sometimes the jobs were really, really boring – making tea, running errands and doing the drudge work that someone higher up the pecking order didn’t want to do - and sometimes there were no promotion prospects let alone a career path.

But you still plodded on. There was no safety net so if you wanted to eat, pay the rent, let alone get married and have children (ah so old-fashioned), you did what you needed to do, tried to get as much experience as possible so that when something better came along you could grab it. And sometimes you couldn’t take those opportunities.  I was a PA in a leading advertising agency, my boss told me that they had made a decision to hire their first female trainee account executive (Oh yes, those were the days) and suggested I apply for the job. I was very excited until I realized that it would mean halving my salary – and as my husband was studying that was out of the question – a missed opportunity but you did what you had to do.

Unemployed, unemployable?

There was an article in the Evening Standard last year about a school leaver who applied for 3,000 jobs over 15 months and failed to get a job. She had neither skills, nor qualifications nor could I find any kind of experience. Why should anyone look at her once, let alone twice?

This means that this young woman sent off on average 10 applications a day five days a week.  How targeted is that? I have had those sorts of applications, not only from school leavers but graduates and people with experience and they start “To whom it may concern....”, the name of the organisation was often wrong and sometimes they mentioned another organisation altogether.  Why should I, or anyone, read through to the end?  The internet is available – do the research.  If this is what young people are being encouraged to do they are being failed miserably.

By the time my Number One Daughter went to university she had done a number of things that would have interested me as an employer.  She and two school friends took on two paper rounds between them.  Two of the three did both rounds together and the third had a lie-in – each of them therefore had a lie-in every third day. (Ingenuity Commitment will turn up on time ✓); she had a Saturday job in a shop (reliable✓ customer service ).  While at university she worked at times as a domestic cleaner, washing up in a Mexican restaurant (never ate refried beans again) and sold books off a market stall.

She is now highly educated with a senior job – but all along the way the mindless jobs without a future have ticked a number of boxes that would have counted with or without a university education and speak volumes to a prospective employer.

She is not alone – many of my friends and former colleagues did seasonal work in factories, in shops, on building sites, in hospitals and on farms – those same jobs that are now being done by people coming here from other EU countries.  

Doing things that “look good on a CV” are not just for graduates.  An employer faced with a number of unskilled, unqualified applicants is desperate to find something that will indicate whether this person will stay the course, turn up on time, do a day’s work (and that means a day’s work not hours here and there in between texting and checking facebook) and pitch up again tomorrow and the next day.

My early involvement with people seeking work experience to complete their qualifications was interesting.  Our first candidate worked hard, never said no to anything and we offered him a trainee position when he qualified (fancy word for gofer.....) and is now Head of IT (and still sings a mean karaoke). The second had nails that were so long they curved around under her fingers.  It did not seem to impede her using her mobile phone which she did a lot but did hamper her typing and other tasks. We pointed this out to her but she said that she wasn’t prepared to cut them and we never saw her again.

As a post-script: I know that the current climate is different; the job market is difficult and that there are many talented and qualified young people who are unable to find work but sometimes you have to do the grunt work before you can follow your dream.

Saturday 8 February 2014

Competition is part of life, but it isn’t always good

I am writing this while the Winter Olympics is on – taking part is good and if you have absolutely no chance of winning or even getting close, (the Jamaican bobsleigh team is an example) it is everything.  Otherwise winning is all-important.

My theme for today is actually around charities: charities are very competitive organisations and they fund competitive people.  In medical research, as much as all the research is being done for the greater good, there is competition but there is also huge collaboration.

Charities compete for funding – no one can support every charity and donors/supporters make decisions on which causes to support every day. There is nothing new about that but I have been very troubled by a series of advertisements that have been running this week. The strapline – next to a photograph says, “I wish I had breast cancer”.  The message in the smaller print is that pancreatic cancer has very poor rates of early diagnosis and the survival rates are poor as well.  Breast cancer has a high rate of detection with better survival rates.

There is a saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity and there is no doubt that the negative reaction to this advertisement from a number of breast cancer and other charities has given the charity much higher media coverage than they would have attracted otherwise. I am not sure how positive I would feel about this had I just been diagnosed with breast cancer.  I remember someone who had been treated for breast cancer saying to me – “they tell me I am lucky that it isn’t a very aggressive cancer, lucky would be not to have cancer!”

Once I got over my initial shock at what is quite a crass approach I was disappointed that it has come to this.  When I became involved with Breast Cancer Campaign in the early 1990s HIV/AIDS was top of the news agenda.  Breast cancer was still spoken about softly and not at all by many women. There were people who were keen that we were more vociferous about the amount of money spent on HIV/AIDS research and care compared to breast cancer, especially as they felt that HIV/AIDS was avoidable in the majority of cases and breast cancer wasn’t.

Whether that was true or not wasn’t the point – how could we be so arrogant to say that one disease is more worthy than another, that dying from breast cancer was some how more noble than succumbing to AIDS. You could even argue that screening for HIV was more important to the general community because others can be infected than screening for breast cancer. So we didn’t.

Breast cancer led the way for other cancers and other diseases with wonderful advocates who spoke out about their disease and campaigned for better diagnosis and treatment, greater awareness and a screening programme. All of which we have but it is still the second biggest cause of death from cancer in women.

I have lost friends and family members to pancreatic cancer – there are massive challenges, especially around diagnosis where, like ovarian cancer, the symptoms can be varied and time is wasted while they are attributed to something else. I am aware of the size of the challenge.

I would be interested to know the results of this advertising campaign – for a charity with last reported income of £172,000 was this a good use of resources, did it raise more money, were they flooded with requests for information and was it worth it?

Note:  while you are very welcome to comment on this blog and I will read your comment, I don’t publish them as I don’t wish to have to monitor it on a daily basis. You can always contact me through LinkedIn.