In 2012 I finished university and entered the world of work. Shocked by the limited and bad options available to me and my friends; in the form of unpaid internships, volunteer placements, jobs we could do before we studied or jobs we were not passionate about and would not enjoy, I set out in search of alternatives in the countries of Portugal and Spain, where youth unemployment is as high as 50%.
I thought to myself if half the young population of these countries is not working they must be finding different ways of surviving, living and enjoying life. And what an amazing collection of ideas, solutions and questions they had in store.
I am tired of hearing again and again that we are the graduates, the youth, the generation with no future. To me it makes no sense and the reality is in fact quite the opposite.
I look around me and on the one hand I see the people of my generation, both friends and strangers, with ideas and time, with energy and passion, people with hopes, desires and dreams, people who are ready and willing to make a change, to do something with their mind and bodies in this crazy world.
On the other hand I see the environment in which we are becoming adults, the reality the meets us when we finish school or university; a reality dominated by corrupt politicians and power hungry corporations, by greed and competition, by empty rhetoric and soulless consumerism. Within England I see a government that is privatising the provision of our basic needs such as education and healthcare, that is bailing out the banks whilst discriminating against its most vulnerable, that is increasingly infringing on our freedom of speech. On a global scale I see an economic system that is based on infinite growth, something which is impossible on a planet with finite resources, that in its pursuit of profit above all else is creating poverty, unemployment, exploitation and environmental destruction on a scale never seen before.
Which, I ask, is the problem in this reality? Which has no future? Us? The next generation of human beings? Or the economic system that surrounds us? Which gives us more hope? Which gives us the most capacity to enact change?
I recently applied for an internship at a charity in London that was set up to challenge the idea of youth being apathetic. Its work involves facilitating and supporting youth in schools to set up project on issues they care about, so they can actively feel and experience their power and ability to create change. One hundred and fifty people applied for this internship, there were only four places. Now what seems crazy in this scenario is that at a time where youth within this country are actively being discriminated against and are being pushed into an increasingly powerless position, with the tripling of university fees and planned cuts in housing and benefits for under 25s. One hundred and fifty people (just in this one example, I’m sure there are many others) are out there ready and willing to work on supporting and empowering youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, albeit for far less than minimum wage, yet because this thing called a ‘job’ does not exist now only four will do so. Again let me ask the question, what exactly is the problem in this scenario? The one hundred and fifty people that want to dedicate their time to challenging youth apathy, or an economic system that does not value and support such endeavours?
Let us look at another scenario. The Independent recently reported that there are now forty-five graduates applying for every graduate job in the UK, which means that one person gets the job, whilst forty-four don’t. Now the blame in this scenario is immediately placed on the individual, both by the person themselves, and society and the media around them. This often makes people feel worthless, stupid, disempowered and depressed. The focus is always what could I have done differently? Why am I so incapable? Was I not witty enough? Professional enough? Not profit motivated, not inspiring? How can I pimp up my CV… more unpaid ‘work experience’ that I can’t afford, a masters that I can’t afford?
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not against personal improvement and development, nor am I in any sense implying that every person who applies for a job is good enough to get it, but you do not have to have done a degree in maths to work out, that no matter how much we self improve there simply aren’t enough jobs, there will always be those left without, and graduates are by no means at the bottom of this pile. Surely then these are the wrong questions to be asking. The question then becomes what is wrong with this economic system in which there simply aren’t enough jobs? And in my personal opinion youth unemployment is only the tip of the iceberg.
So, onto the more exciting and inspiring part, because yes you sigh, we all know the situation is fucking bleak, we do not need to read an article to be told that. So here’s some suggestions, the beginnings of a conversation, and hopefully of action, upon how we can turn this situation around, and actually regain control of our lives, of our futures, of this worlds future in fact.
Firstly we need to stop competing with each other for all these underpaid, uninspiring internships and jobs that most often we do not enjoy, most often do not enable us to do what we are really passionate about, and most often merely direct our time and energy into creating more money for a few people that quite frankly do not need more. Where, perhaps, we may ‘get our foot on the ladder’ we are frequently used as free labour, or paid less than minimum wage by companies that have profits of millions.
Secondly we need to start looking at what we can create by collectively coming together. So, for example, instead of these forty-five graduates or youth competing against each other for these jobs, they start to come together and cooperate and work out what new, innovative and exciting projects, social enterprises, business proposals they can come up with.
Imagine what could be created if you brought together people with such a diversity of different skills and forms of knowledge; a mechanical engineer, politics student, biological scientist, carpenter, film maker, historian, electrician, mathematician, artist. They may invent something new, or come up with a sustainable transport system for a whole city. The possibilities are endless, but currently all this creative potential is going to waste.
Through this process, a few things happen. Firstly we begin to reclaim control over our capacity to create, over ourselves, over our future. Whilst we beg for shit jobs, the companies, the government, the economic system holds us ransom and holds the power. But guess what all those things need to continue- US.
So what happens when we regain control over our ability to do and produce, we have control over the nature and dynamics of the economic system, we are calling the shots and deciding what we want to do. We reclaim the time, the space, and collective imagination to begin to consider some fairly important questions about work and its nature that are frequently and surprisingly overlooked.
The experience of being an unemployed graduate over the last few months, led me to ask a series of questions. It started with the simple considerations of well what do I want to do? Who do I want to work for? Where do I want to work? Who will actually employ me? Shit how the hell am I going to live? How am I going to be able to do what I really care about?
This very quickly progressed to me starting to question and deconstruct the whole idea and nature of work, and ask; ok well actually why do I want to work? What is the purpose of work? What is fulfilling about work? What influence do I want my work to have? How much do I want to work? Who do I want to work with? And so the list goes on. Considering work is what we spend most of our waking lives doing, to me it seems quite crazy that most of us have never asked and also have very little control over the answers to such questions.
So here’s a few of my answers to these questions, and please ponder upon and share your own. For me the point of ‘work’ is threefold: firstly I need to meet my basic human needs so I can survive, secondly I want to do something I enjoy with my time, something I am good at, something that inspires me, and allows me to feel creative and useful, to feel alive, to feel meaning. Finally I want to contribute positively in some way to my community, to society, to humanity, to this earth, depending upon what scale you want to take it to.
For me this has become the starting point. Not the question of ok how do I get a job, because that limits me to the current reality, to the current economic system, in which fulfilling those three priorities is very unlikely. So instead of searching for jobs, I will search for people, people who have similar values, questions, hopes and dreams. People who also want to regain control over what it is they put their energy towards and choose to create, that want to find ways to collectively meet our basic needs, create meaningful work, and start to find solutions to the multiple environmental, economic and cultural problems our world faces today.
And although I will be the first to admit this is a personal endeavour, I am an unemployed graduate and am searching for a new and creative way out of this mess, I think it also has the potential to have much wider impacts.
You see we are living in a period of crisis, and for me crisis opens up space for two things, destruction and creation. It can lead to death, despair, struggle and pain as it currently is, but it can also lead to new ways of thinking and acting, to positive and inspiring solutions and to new ways of life.
For me this crisis opens up the space for us to challenge and reject the system in which we have grown up in, to say a system based on such violence, such greed, such destruction, such exploitation, does not have a future.
But we, we do, we want to find new ways of organising our society to meet our needs, new ways of relating to each other and the world around us, new things to direct our time and energy into, things that are more just, more sustainable and more humane. And I would like to invite you to join me in both imagining and creating these alternative futures.
With love and hope, Rx (check her blog)