Tuesday, 3 February 2015

If you want a job, become a robot

I would like to consider myself hard-working and passionate, with an extent of creativity to offer.  But no one wants to know that, especially in regards to job applications. I did not think I was auditioning to become an actor, but it appears that my career path has been kind of made for me.
This is an account of the experience of the reality of employment – or, in my case at the moment, unemployment.

In the last few months the government has been awfully keen to put on a show of statistics – unemployment down to 5.8%  over the course of the  three months to November last year. In an interview with The Guardian, the chief  secretary to the Treasury urged that this was only a good thing:  ‘We’re continuing to buck the European trend with strong growth and record job creation’ he said.

Yet the word ‘trend’ seems awfully flimsy – like the teenage fads and fashions I once indulged in. Perhaps the ‘European trend’ will become something too the country wants to quickly grow out of, though, of course, even a Referendum is unlikely to come up with definitive results in regards to that.
What appears definitive though is that the current government is clearly attempting to prop itself up with continued  cries of ‘look how low  unemployment is’. I could  slip back into my actors mask and respond with a smile, but in reality I am lower than that. This is an article written after nearly a  solid month of job-searching.  And many  people search for much, much longer than that.

I am currently taking a leave of absence from university after what my doctor recommended was a time to ‘re-engage and recharge.’ Initially then, I approached the situation with energy – I wanted to be constructive, productive, putting my time into engaging with the public and therefore feeling part of something. In turn, I visited a number of businesses in my local town of Burnley, putting myself forward and offering my assistance if anything was available. Yet rather than  feel part of something, I increasingly felt like a spare part. My travelling from business to business became  almost pantomimic, my enthusiasm typically met with a stone cold stare and the response ‘apply online’.

What immediately struck me was  - what are  the prospects for people who do not have access to computers? Not everyone has access to the internet, especially the older generations for whom IT was not a taught element in schools. Furthermore, technology is expensive and often a job is the necessity for those expenses to be paid. This puts potential limits on getting people involved in the public sector, especially the most potentially vulnerable members of society still looking for work – such as those recovering from illness.    And, as many people will agree, it is often easier to convey emotion and enthusiasm face to face rather than from a keyboard. I would shout this message if I could.
Yet many may think me a hypocrite, sitting here typing up my anger, admitting to the medium I am attempting to evaluate. Why does she feel it necessary to degrade the inevitable modernisation of the jobs market? But there is a difference between evaluation and degradation. I find it interesting more than anything else that someone prepared to stand before a business and genuinely present themselves often invites a sneer, whilst hidden behind a computer-generated CV and a series of multiple-choice questions is ‘sensible.’ This is in relation to the public sector, where surely the person is integral to the work?

Apparently not. Instead, what  presented as welcome is a  world where job eligibility is based on the ability to build a digital ideal, a little like a Sims character. For example, it is evident to answer ‘no’ to ‘do you get stressed under pressure?’ and similar questions rather than exhibit the truth which will obviously come to the front in – you guessed it – personal experience.

I am applying for jobs in the public sector because I want to be personally part of  something, to interact with people and be a constructive member of society. It is for similar reasons, and with a  great passion for what he does, that my father became a primary school head teacher. Yet in light of another quickly passed government policy, David Cameron is proposing to sack headteachers he accuses of ‘coasting.’ Rather than throwing headteachers a lifeline, Cameron  could in this way potentially contribute to the slowly stifling removal of personality from public positions.

I believe in turn that passion, enthusiasm and integrity are increasingly crushed  by the current climate of employment, especially in the public sector – as people are driven to ‘perform’ rather than to inform, so to speak. I failed many online applications because as a student, and although having part-time jobs previously, never having had a career before,   I could not fill in the mandatory ‘previous salary’ section when applying for jobs.  Then there are character limits. These are obviously necessary considering that otherwise it would take such an amount of time to process the online applications that a job would never be reached. Yet ones character can be potentially so much more easily seen in person, in the guts it takes to get up and go into businesses even though you may face rejection.  Or even online – the potential of an interactive interview taken on by some companies, but certainly a minority, is a real attempt at a personal offer.

Yet it becomes easy to fill in routine online applications with little enthusiasm and rehearsed answers – and is that what applying to be part of the public service should be? Robotic? Even beyond that – the prospect of employment –, which the government so significantly emphasize – is often in the form of zero-hours contracts and in turn, increased insecurity. Yet it is in this way too people are expected to go beyond actors and become robots, expected to cope with no set structure of working hours even if they have families or debts to pay. You would have to have so little emotion to find it easy that you might as well be robotic.

Therefore, although the government seems happy to shout about falling unemployment, I want to be a voice to express that this is not always a fair reality. Systems of selection currently exclude peoples enthusiasm and  disrobe them of their talents,  their individuality. This leads to people applying for jobs by necessity, rather than integrity, after having  their enthusiasm wiped again and again. I know so many people passionate to work in the public sector who feel tossed aside my systems of application which seem so unwilling to engage with the real person. And  even in the prospect of employment looms the same lack of engagement – not only zero-hours contracts, but  teachers tasked with drilling numbers into children and care workers having to pay for their own transport and unpaid for the time it takes to travel between patients. I keep on writing because I am passionate and it is what I would like to incorporate into public service. I just fear that there are so many brilliant, innovative voices out there who have had their passions to heavily crushed. I fear too that I may be faced with work that I applied to not out of enthusiasm, but out of  resignation because the opportunity to express my potential was not accounted for.

I am trying, I really am. But does that mean anything anymore?

Yes, many British people may be in work or have work. But whether it is really working,  is perhaps something to be considered. 

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