Edwina Currie was at it again last night – telling BBC Radio 5 Live listeners and Owen Jones that people are not living in poverty but fibbing about their circumstances. We know this is nothing new and that a few weeks ago she said no one in this country is going hungry. In fact, the show also revealed that in the 80s she said northerners die of “ignorance and chips”. The woman is repulsive.
The show then went on to a teacher who is considering moving to China because she can’t find work here: her tale of attempts to find work stacking shelves were met with some disbelief. I can assure you that the jobs once seen as easy to get are no longer anything of the sort. I’ve applied for yet more jobs this week … for which I’m an odd mixture of vastly over-qualified and irritatingly under-qualified.
I’m told by Jobcentre Plus to “play down” my qualifications – I wonder if they know that by telling fibs on a job application I could later end up sacked if I got the job and then refused benefits if I had been sacked. I wonder.
I don’t lie. I tell all and I’m sure many employers recognise I’m applying for jobs to please the Jobcentre and because anything will do for a while. Employers want someone who wants to work for them, someone who might stick around, and someone who might actually enjoy what they’re being asked to do: it is clear I’m not always that person.
I want to be a journalist, I’m happy to be a lecturer. My degrees and post-graduates qualifications are suited to both these jobs. I chose to concentrate on these qualifications in order to be suitable for these jobs.
Passing my NCE was a momentous occasion, proof that I was a bone fide journalist, equipped and qualified to investigate the heck out of the small town I worked in. We had put the paper to bed on the afternoon I received the news that I’d passed.
Once the weekly paper was done there were no calls to make, no news to write, an afternoon to go and “visit the patch” … so we all went home. I always used it as an opportunity for a civilised afternoon nap when I could be guaranteed to be left alone. This time phone rang. I picked it up without thinking. I even answered – habitually – with the name of the newspaper I worked for.
“Are you working from home these days,” my editor said, in his firmest voice. It was the tone that could lead to the opening of the All These People Could Do Your Job drawer containing what looked like CVs.
I sat up, struggling for some unknown reason to find a notebook and pen. I was silent. Then muttered, “I … er …I just popped home to –”
“Oh? You sound like you’ve been asleep.”
“No. Ha! No. I left something at home that I need so I just popped back to get it.”
“I really don’t mind if you have been asleep,” he said, cheerfully. I wondered if I still was asleep. “I’ve got your NCE results and you’ve passed so, as far as I’m concerned, you can go back to sleep. Congratulations and well done.” With that he put down the phone.
I feared I’d pay for this at some point but I never did. Even the most obnoxious of editors knew how important it was for me as a journalist and for his newspaper that I had the qualifications relevant to my role: qualifications which meant I could be trusted to report, was a professional, trained reporter with an important job to do.
Now I’m thinking laterally and applying for jobs for which I have transferable skills but, in reality, I don’t have the qualifications now seen as essential to these posts. I don’t have an NVQ in Advice and Counselling. I don’t have an NVQ in Learning and Development. In fact, I don’t have a single NVQ but up they keep popping in the “essential criteria” and I find myself describing my relevant experience instead.
One can’t help but think that all these qualifications are something of a money-spinner. I mean, does one need a high level NVQ when one has already paid for degrees? Does one need a lower level NVQ when one left school with GCSEs? When did experience become less important than a certificate?
The NVQ began, as I understand it, back in 1987 under the Task Group on Assessment aimed at creating nationally standardised tests: brought in by the Tories and kept, and developed, by the Labour government. These National Vocational Qualifications are “’competence-based’ qualification [helping you develop] the skills and knowledge to do a job effectively.” Why, if I have the skills and knowledge already, is the NVQ an essential qualification?
One can get an NVQ in Cleaning and Support Services. This course will help you to “demonstrate your ability in a wide range of cleaning areas” and is aimed at anyone “working in the cleaning sector, whether as a street cleaner, window cleaner or industrial cleaner”. The jobs this qualification can lead to are “cleaner, housecleaner, industrial cleaner, street cleaner and window cleaner.”
If you’re already working as a cleaner – and one imagines not paid a great deal – why should you need to have a qualification to prove your skills and go on to become a cleaner? Especially if you have to pay for the qualification.
Worse still, if you need to earn money quickly and have a bucket, a ladder and the willingness to wash your neighbours’ windows why should a lack of qualification stop you? If you have a business plan to start an office cleaning business should not having this NVQ hold you back?
This is not to mock cleaning jobs or to suggest window cleaners are not skilled workers – this is about seeing capable workers unable to get jobs because they haven’t got a very specific qualification.
Thankfully the Newspaper NVQ was scrapped a few years ago so my NCTJ (paid for by a former employer) is still worth something to someone somewhere.
There are many schemes the unemployed now have to go on in order to keep their benefits (including my Billionaire Training) but little funding for qualifications. It seems obvious to me that if people are going to be forced to have specific qualifications then they should be able to study for those qualifications while unemployed … but instead we jump through hoops and are expected to work for less than minimum wage.
There are few enough jobs without employers demanding qualifications instead of experience.
New worry: I’ve been repeatedly assured that when I’ve completed my Enterprise Club it’s not compulsory for me to join the New Enterprise Allowance but today I read “unless you have a good reason, if you fail to take part in the Employment, Skills and Enterprise Scheme your Jobseekers’ Allowance may be stopped or cut. This may also happen if you don’t join one of the government initiatives that are part of the scheme”.
Mad moment: At 6pm last night I momentarily panicked: either that I hadn’t read the nationals in preparation for an editorial meeting or hadn’t written a lesson plan for would-be journos. Then I remembered I’m on the dole.