David Bone: Don’t join the ranks of the underemployed

How many of these graduates will end up underemployed?
How many of these graduates will end up underemployed?
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Imagine you are in your first “real” job. Perhaps a junior position in a company. The wages are low, but you anticipate that you will progress to greener pastures within a few years. With a bit of hard work, motivation and some good luck you will move vertically or horizontally with your current employer or to a better-paid position someplace else, hopefully freeing up your position for another employee. You’re moderately over qualified for the position, but you won’t be there for long anyway.

Now, instead of this happening, imagine that you are stuck in the same position for ten, 15 even 20 years without much chance of moving to a better position internally or externally. Of course the longer you stay in the same position the far less chance you have of moving up the “career” ladder, leading to a vicious circle of despondency, apathy and reliance on the “gig” economy.

Workers are generally regarded as underemployed when they are willing to work more hours than their employers are prepared to offer. To me, however, being unable to progress or reach potential is underemployment.

In the UK, it is not only the spectre of unemployment that haunts us, but her equally pernicious sister underemployment as well. Underemployment is a funny phenomenon and it can be recognised by a phrase I’m sure many of the afflicted will be tired of hearing: “Oh well, at least you’re in a job.” This well-worn phrase is thrown about whenever the topic is brought up.

According to one TUC report, about 270,000, or more than one in ten, Scottish workers are underemployed.No-one is suffering from crippling naivety about the world. Capitalism has a requirement for people to do menial but essential tasks, often in the background and out of sight. We’ve all done these types of roles at some point and most of us will continue to do them as there are few other options available to us.

However, the difference is that we were repeatedly told by those in positions of authority and power that if we did well at school, went to university and kept our heads down, we would receive a salary commensurate with the effort that we put in. Indeed the marketing departments of most universities told us that most jobs would be “non-graduate specific”.

In fact, this is nonsense. Most jobs don’t even require a graduate. My work office is staffed with politics, sociology and psychology graduates, all earning well below the “living” wage.

In the past decade not a single employer, potential, past or current has ever asked to see any qualifications that I have accrued. Work experience and how confident you are in a 15-minute interview being the primary criteria you will be judged on.

Right now many young people are waiting for exam results and planning the next stage of their lives. If any are reading this andconsidering going to university, I’d suggest they consider their options. You might enjoy philosophy, politics or media studies, but will it get you a job that you care about? Or even one that might earn you a decent salary? Choose carefully – and don’t become one of Scotland’s underemployed.

David Bone is a third sector worker and blogger. He lives in Girvan, Ayrshire