So, apparently there's a whole shitstorm kicking off at the moment around the government's work experience scheme. To cut a very long and tedious story short, this is a scheme that allows 16-24 year olds on benefits to volunteer to do unpaid work without losing their benefits.
I'm hardly a fan of this government, but it seems to me self-evident that this is a scheme - which may well have been launched and communicated badly, to be fair - designed to give kids some real experience of a working environment and not, as has been suggested, "unpaid forced labour".
This is a good thing, right?
We had a recent graduate in our office the other week. He was unemployed and had been due to do a year's sandwich placement in industry as part of his course, but the collapse in the economy meant that the companies that supported this were pulling out and it had to be cancelled. You know what he did? He used his own initiative to look for opportunities to get some experience that might help him get a job. He lives in Essex, but came up to Nottingham to work with us for a couple of weeks. He wasn't interested in being paid for this work, and we filled his time by spending some time showing him how the different areas of the department worked. I hope it wasn't too boring for him, but he made a good impression on almost everyone who spent time with him and was actually offered a paying job soon after, but he had already found himself work nearer home. He showed some initiative and he found himself a job. Good for him.
I was also reading an article the other day about the way that Cambridge University chooses undergraduates. Competition is, of course, intensive and standards are very high. You know what marks people out and makes a difference in whether or not they get a place at the University? Voluntary work, particularly work that is directly related to the degree the candidate wants to study:
"For medicine, the tutors look for both a strong aptitude for science and the beginnings of a bedside manner. This candidate has divided his interviewers. While the clinicians thought highly of him, there is a question mark over his scientific ability. Keeler seems inclined to attach greater weight to his exam performance than the interview. "The interview is just part of the picture – his four A*s is the summation of many years of work," he says. He carries on leafing through the folder, looking for evidence of what the candidate is doing now. "Looking at the personal statement for medicine, it's important that they have a range of activities and, particularly, that they have done a serious level of volunteering – handing out teas in a hospice, working with disabled children. Something where they have to take on a caring role and think about why doctors can't cure everybody.
"He's been on a gap year," Keeler notes.
"If he's been sitting on a beach for a year, I'll put him in the bin ..."
He turns a page of the folder and reads the candidate's statement: "He's been volunteering with St John Ambulance. And also training to be a special constable – that's something I've never seen before. He's clearly doing something worthwhile. He's currently volunteering at a care home." The admissions tutor smiles. "That's a tick for me.""
Volunteer work - especially if you are still receiving payment in the form of your benefit - sounds like a pretty good idea to me. Not everyone agrees. The Unions were up in arms, and a group, a little ironically, called The "Right to Work" campaign said of the government's scheme:
"Forced unpaid work still continues in the form of the mandatory work activity and community activity programme... There should not be any young person anywhere forced to work for no pay. Everyone on any training scheme should receive minimum wage or above."
Today is February 29th. It's a leap year and today is the extra day that realigns our calendars with the pattern of the Earth's orbit around the sun. There are 366 days this year.
Is it just me, or is it ironic that this particular issue should have reared its head on the one day in four years that everyone on an annual salary works for free?
I don't get paid by the hour; I have an annual rate. I get paid the same in a year with 366 days as I do in a year with 365 days. The Man got today for nothing.
On the plus side, my personal productivity today was poor, so....
And you have to pay me on the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Bank Holiday later on this year. I don't even like the Royal Family! Ha!
Take that, The Man!