‘Job snob’ rhetoric is muddying the debate about work experience
Authors: The Work Foundation
Lizzie Crowley and Dr Paul Sissons
24 February 2012
There has been a huge amount of debate (and confusion) about the Work Experience placements offered to unemployed 16-24 year olds through the government’s Get Britain Working initiative. The issue has blown-up around the question of whether young people should be paid by the employer during their placement (rather than the current situation where they continue to receive their benefit). While this scheme is voluntary to enter (unlike the Mandatory Work Activity scheme) it does carry sanctions; anyone who cuts their placement short will have their benefits stopped temporality. Several employers have left the scheme, changed the terms, or expressed concerns as a result of the coverage.
In response to this Iain Duncan Smith published a letter defending the scheme and criticising those he perceived to be ‘job snobs’. For the Minister the ‘implicit message’ of critics of the scheme was that jobs in the supermarkets or in retail ‘are not worthwhile jobs that people do’. While this largely misses the point, it raises an important issue about how we value the jobs we do and what opportunities they offer.
What we do know is that the retail sector is a big and important employer and that relatively large numbers of jobseekers are looking for exactly this type of work. Figures from the Office of National Statistics released this week showed that one-third of young jobseekers were looking for retail work. A further 29 percent were looking for elementary jobs – jobs which typically have the lowest qualification requirements. Retail jobs and less skilled jobs across all industries provide important “entry level jobs” to the labour market. However, while many big retailers and others do provide opportunities for progression, we also know that there is much more that could be done to increase progression, skills acquisition and skills use in many low-wage occupations.
So what is the role of work experience in supporting young people into work? Ultimately the way to judge a programme is whether it actually gets people into work, and the evidence on the effectiveness of work experience placements has been mixed .
A large part whether work experience is a good thing or not depends on the quality of the placement offered, and whether it is directly linked to a job (for example in the form of a guaranteed interview). In general, for a placement to be beneficial it should be linked to career aspirations or goals, it must involve a variety of tasks and give a real insight into the role and the activities of the company, those undertaking work experience must be assigned a mentor and be properly supervised throughout their placement, and adequate training must be provided.
Many responsible employers have been working to provide opportunities for the young, the long-term unemployed, and the disadvantaged for several years, a trend that needs to be encouraged and strengthened. Ministers need to move beyond attacking “job snobs” and urgently seek to restore employer confidence.
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