Half-time Whistle

We have now reached the half-time point in this JobBridge match and the whistle has just been blown. By whom? By the department of social protection of course!

Beyonce is unhappy about the Department of Social Protection's choices

…not exactly a true to life representation

Last week, a representative from the department -who for clarity and hilarity’s sake, I will dub Beyonce –  visited my workplace to give a quick interview to both myself and my manager (separately, just in case I needed to rat her out I guess) to see how the internship was progressing.

The questions revolved mainly around the job description; was I learning about the factors that were advertised in the job description? Was I working the same amount of hours as advertised? Did I feel my mentor was actually mentoring me?

Happily, I was able to answer a truthful yes to all of these questions but of course, my curiosity made me enquire: what would have happened if I said no?

Beyonce seemed very upfront and was happy to chat about it. This is a summary of the information she gave me:

  • If there was an issue, at first she would recommend you deal with it internally, just like any other job. However, she would say it to the mentor as sometimes it can help to have an outside person bring the matter to their attention. Beyonce also said that often interns don’t feel they have the same HR rights as other employees but that this is not the case.
  • If the intern is still unhappy, then the department steps in to investigate. It was pretty unclear what happens during this investigation but what I took from it would be an ongoing investigation while you were still working there.
  • Most people when they’re unhappy with the JobBridge position choose to leave the role instead of pursuing it, because of the “other consequences it might have in similar jobs”.
  • After such a complaint, any organisation with the scheme will either be on orange alert – meaning the department keep a “close eye on them” during the next internship – or red, meaning they cannot hire any more interns through the scheme

I understand the logic behind asking the intern to approach the issue with the employer. Communication within your role is something you’d be expected to have in any position and if there’s a problem, you need to know how to approach it.

When it goes further than a simple conversation however the consequences to abusing the scheme are laughable. I assume you’ve heard about Munster Express’ whopping 2 month ban on hiring JobBridge interns after they were found abusing the scheme. And then it was only an explicit ban on hiring photographers, not for any other role in the organisation. TWO MONTHS. I’ve had Tinder flirtations last longer.

We can safely say the department don’t do enough to vet the positions available and there are very little consequences to abusing the system. But are interns who are mistreated doing enough? Do they actually bring their complaints to people like Beyonce and her department? Or are some happier to moan to their friends but think it’s just “part of the system” and they have to put up with it because it’s an intern? Are the people behind JobBridge being clear enough about interns’ rights and obligations? Probably not and they also need to be harsher on those who mismanage them.

I don’t think I can honestly advocate for the complete closure of JobBridge as a scheme since I’m benefiting so enormously out of it and I know for a fact I’m not the only one. But what about the people who are being so completely exploited? Can we not be trusted in this country to run decent employment schemes? IS THIS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS?! Sort it out Beyonce!

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JobBridge is broken…fix it

There’s lots of valid debate on whether or not JobBridge should even exist. It’s reasonable to question this; we’re basically encouraging people to work for free.

As argued previously though, there are a handful of positives to the scheme, even if it has been developed in such a ham-fisted way. In light of the fact they’re trying to expand the programme, it seems unlikely we’re going to see the back of it anytime soon. But there’s no reason why it can’t be at least improved upon, it wouldn’t be difficult.

So being an entirely unexpert opinion, these are a few really simple ways that could make JobBridge an entirely more positive, less bureaucratic and an all over genuine productive work scheme.

  • Better filters

This is a no-brainer. We’ve all seen the adverts for Deli Assistants, Shop Assistants. How on earth is this happening?

Given what I know about the bureaucratic nature of this scheme, there’s no way they have an automated system of adding internships. It’s definitely somebody’s job to sift through them and type them in laboriously (probably an intern, let’s be honest).

A simple checklist is all that’s required of every position to help ensure ridiculous, scammy positions don’t crop up in JobBridge.

– does this role require ANY skill to complete it? No? Then it’s not an internship.

Learning how to fill shelves, do stock control, fill cars with petrol and make sandwiches are things you learn in a week, not 9 months.

That simple question would save a lot of hassle straight away. It would instantly eliminate ads for call centre operatives, waiters and other bullshit “internships” that continually get through the net and drum up negative publicity for just about everyone.

  • Open it up

JobBridge should be open to new graduates, even if they’re employed. Most graduates will work for less money than a standard minimum wage job if it means they’re actually getting use and experience for their degree.

I personally know one person who is understandably reluctant to give up their full-time supermarket job in the hopes that in 3 months time a suitable internship might crop up. He’s in the familiar graduate trap of ‘you need experience to get experience’ and, for now, is going nowhere career wise. If JobBridge were available to people who graduated in the last two years, regardless of their employment status, it could lead to a smarter economy.

It even says it right here on the JobBridge website:

“The aim of the National Internship Scheme is to assist in breaking the cycle where jobseekers are unable to get a job without experience, either as new entrants to the labour market after education or training or as unemployed workers wishing to learn new skills.”

Stop contradicting yourself Social Protection Department.

  • Get employers to contribute

Again, this should an easy decision. When you start a JobBridge role, you’re taken off the live register which is good for government news bites, but the state pays you €50 more, so you’ve suddenly become more expensive (albeit more bankable).

Why doesn’t the employer cover the cost of this extra money? It would make far more sense to leave the government’s contribution as it is and make the employers availing of this scheme to hire the interns for a rock-bottom price of €100 a week. The interns come out with more money overall and the state saves. It would also make certain employers value their interns more, since they’re not working completely for free for them.

And if the employer “can’t afford” €100 a week for a full-time employee? Then they shouldn’t be in business because they’re doing it wrong.

  • The ONE thing you were doing right!

The Department of Social Protection had it right the first time; internships should be capped at 9 months. Internships are there as a learning position, a CV kick starter. Now there are plans afoot to be able to offer internships for a period of TWO YEARS.

Let that sink in for a moment. What do you think will happen to any incentive to create proper jobs when 2 year internships are the norm? If you answered “it will shrivel up until nothing but the empty husks of innovation are left being blown around the landscape” you are correct, 10 points to your Harry Potter house of choice (I’m Ravenclaw, in case you were wondering).

Now look at this post. Those are four ideas I drummed up on a notepad in half an hour that cost the State little money or, in some cases, actually save them money. And this isn’t even my job! Surely out of the billions of euro Irish governments like to throw around like confetti on random “consultant” fees, they could pay somebody to sit down and think about improving this scheme just a little bit and then implement their ideas. Surely somebody could come up with great ideas to kick my ideas’ ass?

I repeat, THIS IS NOT DIFFICULT! The only other possible option is that I am a super genius surrounded by talking monkeys but I sometimes put my jeans on backwards in the morning so this is probably not the case.

Horses; improving your employment schemes since 2012

In my defence, the zipper is on the back

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The happy, smiley face of JobBridge

So far, I’ve done a lot of quasi-lighthearted bitching about bureaucracy and trying to lead a happy, fulfilled life on €238 per week. But, in all seriousness, we all know there’s more than a couple of things seriously wrong with the Jobbridge scheme.

This was initially conceived as a post where I presented a brief outline of a positive aspect of JobBridge before suggesting a myriad of ways which it could be improved upon (and simultaneously astounding you with my profound intellect and vision). As it grew in length, I decided to split it up because modern attention spans are so very short.

I'm a normal person, but super-happy

I’m a normal person, but super-happy

Internships are becoming a fact of life for more and more industries, particularly those in the creative and policy-making industries. After college, the only way to get experience is sometimes to suck it up and take shitty unpaid work.

This was my experience post-expensive masters and it was gut-wrenchingly depressing. Graduating with a journalism qualification in 2009 was a cruel trick to play on me. All of us were forced to undertake unpaid internships as part of our college programme but due to the difficulty in getting work, some of my classmates jump into volunteering at news organisations after graduation to get valuable experience.

When on a standard internship, you don’t qualify for social welfare as you’re technically unavailable for fulltime work. The experience was valuable but they could only afford to earn it by being the lucky bearers of a bonus I lacked; a comfortable parental home where they could stay and be taken care of for as long as they needed.

At the time my mother had just started a stint of unemployment which is  still ongoing today (after being gainfully employed for 30 years solid). Even if she was working, she comes from the family school of hard graft where even if I was in receipt of a welfare cheque, a portion of it would have to be handed up to her. And there was no way I was staying in her house to work for free while she fed, clothed and sheltered me at the ripe age of 22. I’ve also lived in my own accommodation since I was 17 and a return to the family home would result in both of us destroying each other with northside harpey screams.

So my options were:

  •  be unemployed & try to sell stories to editors who don’t know me in a buyers market filled with hungry graduates (networking is one of my biggest weak spots)
  • take an unpaid internship and be destitute but gain experience which was valuable but sadly inedible
  • take an actual paying (albeit minimum wage) job which has nothing to do with my qualifications in a hope of eventually paying off the loan I took to get those qualifications and watch hopelessly as the letters after my name become more and more meaningless as time marches steadily on.

That’s an attractive package isn’t it? It wasn’t helped by the advice of my journalism lecturers, one of whom had this to say to our class in the run-up to graduation:

Journo Prof: When you graduate, don’t take any job that isn’t journalism. It’s better to be an unemployed journalist than work in Tesco. If you start down that road, you’ll never become a journalist, you’ll just work in a shop.

Me: Any ideas about how to pay my rent?

Journo Lecturer: *blank look* Can’t you just live at home?

Me: Well, my mother lives in Cork, far away from the majority of media. And she can’t afford to keep her adult daughter just because I can’t be bothered to work in a shop. It’s not very practical advice.

JL: Hmmm, um, well….*bewildered look continues, moves class conversation swiftly on ignoring my grudging facial expression*

Let’s examine this; a journalism lecturer actually advised his class to live off the state and their comfortably middle-class parents (as he assumed we all had) for as long as necessary to avoid falling into the trap of working in a job he deemed “below” them. Considering the state of the economy, I can reasonably assume if I followed his advice I would still be claiming social welfare, living in my mother’s house 4 years on.

To his credit, he does have a point. Working in a fulltime job leaves barely any time or brain power for creative processes. If you work 9-6 in a call centre with all breaks and phone calls monitored, how on earth can you chase up leads?

Which brings me to an uncomfortable truth; for the last few years, before the recession and before JobBridge, those lucky enough to come from a comfortable background could afford to take “golden” opportunities to work for free.

Free labour has been around for a long time in certain industries. Job Bridge merely levels the playing field for the rest of us, allowing us to continue to pay rent and eat while finally putting that desperately needed experience on our CVs.

There you have it; a sterling silver lining on the tangled cloud of bureaucratic Irish mess that is JobBridge. Which leads nicely to what will be my next post; a few super-simple measures that could easily improve JobBridge in the off-chance that somebody with the power to improve the scheme actually wishes to do so.

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12 ways to survive Christmas on JobBridge

Why 12? Because Christmas is practically based around the number 12!

I wish the dole office would send me a festive banana

I wish the dole office would send me a festive banana

1) Invites to your gaff

When you get to your mid-20s, it’s absolutely acceptable to socialise more in your home, socialising which doesn’t even (necessarily) involve a bag of cans.

Mulled wine is genuinely very easy to make yourself and it’s ok to ask your guests to chip in for dinner/nachos/whiskey etc. because you’re poor.

2) Presents

This is a difficult one. They key is whittling down to the people you really love. This may sound harsh but really, what has your granny done for you lately?

If you lack my cold, black heart of glass though, more carebear-friendly options include Secret Santa, charity shops and the 3 for 2 offer in Boots.

3) Socialising

For something that’s called the social welfare, it doesn’t really lend itself well to sharing pints and banter with your nearest and dearest. It doesn’t take into account that the love of your life may be back from Australia for 4 days only and, well, it wouldn’t do to “bump into” them in a sober setting, now would it?

On the other hand, it’s a great excuse to not hang out with arseholes. When all else fails, deep pockets and handbags make excellent hiding places for naggins.

4) Family Queries

Prepare yourself for friendly familial curiosity about the nature of your full-time, yet curiously unpaid job. Bonus points if you have an aunt or uncle profoundly untouched by the recession and reacts in extreme amusement/indignation about the rate of governmental “wages” you receive.

5) Go easy on yourself

With any luck, you will be in an internship with actual Christmas holidays. You may not be earning proper wage but you can at least earn a proper holiday. (I took this advice to heart and didn’t really make up a number 5, ha!)

6) Vapid consumerism

The sales mean one thing; a chance to spend my Christmas card money on vaguely respectable looking items I wouldn’t be able to afford at any other time of the year. I’ve been sharpening my elbows for the last 4 weeks in preparation for elbowing other bargain hunters out of the way.

7) Festive Films

Torrent dat shit and delight in the Yuletide scenes while pretending your decorations amount to more than some wilting tinsel from the 2 euro shop.

 8) Wrapping paper

A cheap alternative to wrapping paper is to glue all your social welfare receipts together. If you don’t have enough of them, copies of your pitiful bank statement will also work in an emergency.

Added bonus: may make relatives feel extra sorry for you and put an extra fiver in your Christmas card.

9) Adopt a dozen cats

At first glance, this may seem like an added expense. However, if you allow them to sleep on top of you, you’ll never need the heating on.

Also, dressing them up in tiny outfits and watching their unamused faces is a cheap and easy form of entertainment.

10) It’s fucking freezing

Yeah I know. Once you get into the swing of cooking something though (see number 1), your kitchen will warm up and I promise you there’ll be no need for that heating to be turned on.

Also, have you considered adopting a dozen cats?

11) Hide

Last resort for those of you without an ounce of self-control. If you really can’t be trusted to run up a credit card bill the size of the census (it’s not your fault really, a hangover from the Celtic Tiger), hide in your room, unplug the internet, turn off your phone and sleep until January. On the plus side, you’ll save on those pesky utility bills that mount up this time of year.

12) Hope

Raise a glass and a Christmas cheer

To having a paying job next year!

I briefly flirted with the idea of doing this whole post in rhyme but ultimately decided against it. Perhaps this was a mistake.

Y’know what? Fuck it.  Christmas is the best time to be skint because of friends and family and all that heart-warming shit. I’ll certainly be having a happy Christmas and hope you will too!

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Your rules are arbitrary and stupid

It baffles me that certain members of the social welfare sector have not managed to get their head around the concept of Jobbridge, despite being part of the system that fucking invented it.

I feel most of the time I’m simply repeating myself slowly and loudly, using large, redundant hand gestures in an effort to explain that I actually work full-time hours and therefore will not be available at any point in your working day to cross-examine me as I too shall be working. Any attempt at such an explanation is treated solely with suspicion. What do you mean you work?

Once the saga of the Rent Supplement horcrux was over and deposited back into the hell from whence it came, I got a call from the Community Welfare Officer.

CWO: Do you know you’re meant to come in in person to apply for this?

Me: Well, no. It doesn’t say it anywhere on the form. I also work fulltime.

CWO: Do you? How was I supposed to know that?

Me: It says so. Right there on that form in front of you.

CWO: Oh I didn’t read it. I just rang you to tell you that you have to come into office. You’ve also got the wrong office. In fact, I wouldn’t have rang you at all if that wasn’t the case, I’d just have sent it back to you. Without reading it.

I kid you fucking not.

It does bring up a wider problem, and not one that just involves ragging on public servants, as enjoyable as it is. The welfare system is not actually equipped to deal with the free-work scheme they cooked up. I work full-time hours, it’s more than a little unfair for me to take a holiday so I can hand-deliver a form to an office nearly an hour’s walk from my house. I’m in an internship where I’m trying to impress my employers, coming into work late, even if it’s prearranged, is not the impression I want to give. My manager is absolutely understanding but many others surely aren’t.

Is it that difficult to provide for the thousands of people working in a scheme that you created? You made the rules, now you need to bend them, starting with at least allowing us to post in the forms you want, since you don’t accept online applications (you are also the mortal enemies of trees, but that’s a point for another day).

That being said, shout out to Cara in the Churchfield Welfare Office who, when my form finally got to her, was SOUND.

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Rent Supplement Forms are horcruxes

Nobody likes forms, right? Because you know you’ll mess it up in some way and then have to start over, despite being really tough questions like filling out your name and date of birth.

Plus all the rules. Maybe you don’t have a black ballpoint pen. Do you really have to fill it all out in capitals?

The rent supplement form (previously rent allowance) is the Cthulhu of all forms. A 24 page monstrosity of a thing, it simultaneously enrages and shames you.

It’s like its only purpose is to try and persuade you to get a job (you lazy waste of space), just so you don’t have to fill it out. I’ve known quite a few people who were entitled to it at one point or another, tried to fill it out then promptly shredded it up in a maniacal fit of glee, cackling heartily at the destruction of this malevolent artifact.

Filling out a form shouldn’t be this hard. I’m a literate person of at least average intelligence. There should be nothing here that stops me from completing this long slag heap of questions.

Yet every time I approached the thing, it was like I was repelled. A mental block formed between me and the page and my attention slipped off it like oil, settling on some other, more pleasant tax, like changing cat litter.

I’ve thought about this for a while, looked at the problem from many angles and can come up with only one logical solution; the Rent Supplement form is pure dark magic and may, in fact, be a horcrux.

You know it makes sense

Now that is satisfying

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It’s important, when you start a story, to figure out why you’re telling it in the first place. Maybe, I don’t know, I’m just making up things as I go along here. But let’s start with it anyway.

Q: Why were you unemployed in the first place stupid-head?

A: I had the super-original dream of getting out of my small town and travelling around Asia. So, after a fairly disaster journey around the post-graduate drain, I took a job completely unrelated to my qualifications (degree in English and politics, followed by  masters in journalism), worked for 3 years and saved enough money to go gallivanting around Asia for 6 months with some of my nearest and dearest.

I didn’t have much of a contingency plan for when I came back except “I don’t want to spend another minute of my life in a call centre.” I took the savings, fled the country and landed in Mumbai with a nervous disposition and €5000.

6 months and many stories later, I flew from Hong Kong back to Cork, an act which was made in a triumphant spirit but quickly deflated to ‘so I see I’m unemployed and living in my grandparents spare room. Probably should do something about that.’

Q: So no plan?

A: Ok, I’m employing a bit of hyperbole here. By my 2nd month of travelling, I already had a sorta-plan in place.

Being honest with myself, I only got into journalism for a deep and pervading desire to help people that has uselessly dogged me since I can remember. The post-2008 media cycle being what it is (cannibalistic and depressing), combined with my innate laziness and dire financial situation at the time meant months on the dole trying to pull financially viable freelance ideas out of my disheartened little brain was simply not going to happen.

Q: Ok, so journalism is out. What next?

A: It struck me (and I’ll forgive you for thinking me stupid to take so long to realise this) that if I want to help people, perhaps I should actually work in an industry that strives to do that. Corporations; however good their salary and working environment would never really make me happy. There I was, in the middle of a recession, earning a ridiculously large amount of money and I spent a large portion of my waking hours wishing my sedentary life away.

My sorta-plan was in place; when I got home I would seek employment in the charity/NGO sector. (This is the part when some kind of revelatory music plays in the background).

It was all so simple. If you want to help people, work for people who also want to help people, not simply want to make money.

Q: So this is a proper career change for you then. Why an internship though?

A: Oh I tried to get a proper job. The charity sector is pretty limited in Ireland but I tried anyway. I also concentrated a lot of effort on what might be Europe’s charity Mecca – London – but after a couple of months of searching, nearly 100 applications (all 10-page application forms as well, job-hunting in the UK is a job in itself), I hadn’t even gotten so much of an interview. A couple of months into gainful unemployment, it was time to start applying for internships.

I was prepared for the possibility for a long time. I needed experience in a sector I didn’t have experience in and had long reconciled to the idea of living a pauper lifestyle for a while.

Q: Why are you writing this blog?

Why not? There doesn’t seem to be a lot of first-hand experiences about JobBridge out there. A lot of people are taking up internships but nobody is really talking about it. I never really felt I had anything to say in a blog that hadn’t been said dozen of times before (cannibalistic media?) but this may actually have some value. More than 20,000 JobBridge internships have been taken up but we’re remaining strangely silent.

Also fuck it, it’s winter, let’s start a blog.

Disclaimer: Due to aforementioned laziness, I can’t guarantee upkeep of blog. If you never hear from me again, know that the blog lived out its days on a beautiful farm in the country.

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