Thursday, 16 August 2012

Nation of Brats

New graduates are facing higher hurdles and smaller hoops than ever before, with new "tricky" recruitment practices and employers filtering their candidates by arbitrary means. From application forms requesting the applicant to use green ink and ignoring all who don't, to companies ignoring any C.V written using Times New Roman (strictly off the record of course).

While graduates are facing an unemployment rate of around 16% - 19%, more are settling on a lower skilled job (source: ONS via The Guardian) and jobs that pay less than they would have preferred. Furthermore, according to HR Magazine  more than a third of UK graduates who have searched for a job for over 6 months are now claiming Job Seekers Allowance.

But during a time where our country is struggling economically, is our "nanny state" government's attitude towards people who claim benefits too soft?

The Job Seekers Allowance, aka The Dole has a mixed reputation.

While I like to think I'm somewhere in the middle, I do think that too many people in England feel like the world, or at the very least, the government, owe them a higher standard of living. New Zealand judge John Tapene summed it up beautifully:

"Always we hear the cry from teenagers 'What can we do, where can we go?'
... My answer is, "Go home, mow the lawn, wash the windows, learn to cook, build a raft, get a job, visit the sick, study your lessons, and after you've finished, read a book."

"Your town does not owe you recreational facilities and your parents do not owe you fun. The world does not owe you a living, you owe the world something. You owe it your time, energy and talent so that no one will be at war, in poverty or sick and lonely again."

"In other words, grow up, stop being a cry baby, get out of your dream world and develop a backbone, not a wishbone. Start behaving like a responsible person. You are important and you are needed. It's too late to sit around and wait for somebody to do something someday. Someday is now and that somebody is you..."

Claiming benefits is a privilege that only those who really need it should be able to do. Our government provides a fantastic service to those who are willing to help themselves.
The unemployed do not need to be mollycoddled, and believe me, they are. This image is taken straight from the JSA website:

With rent being as high as it is these days, many unemployed fresh graduates will have no choice but to live at home. £56.25 a week is not bad pocket money. 
There are further seperate benefits for things such as rent and dependents. The government provides travel reimbursement for interviews, there's help with starting costs such as any special clothing required for the job, and they will even help with things such as rent or mortgage repayments during the first month of employment to tie you over until pay day. Pretty much all the financial bases are covered.

Part of the JSA process when you're over 25 is that you have to attend a mandatory group session where a lady will tell you not to undersell yourself, to use more "I" on your CV and not to worry. It's not your fault, it's just tough. You are there to learn about all the different ways the government can help you. No pressure to look for a job (you only need to show that you've applied for looked at 3 jobs a week), they don't shame you for being unemployed. You are just a poor unfortunate soul.

Are you though? Is everyone who's claiming JSA like some fresh graduates, who have spent the last few months looking for a job only to be still unemployed 6 months down the line? Or is our unemployment sofa, with the government cup of tea just a little bit too comfortable?

Most people are actually embarrassed to be in a situation where they need to claim benefits. And it should be that way. Most of us are proud to be hard working, contributing members of society and that's the image that the government should be promoting. Benefits should not been seen as the easy thing to do, and definitely not encouraged.
"He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else."
 - Benjamin Franklin

Our unemployed don't need excuses, let alone excuses made for them. They are not sick children, they don't need baby talk and a teddy bear.
They should be treated as responsible people and the world expects them to contribute.  Motivate them and make them feel as John Tapene said: important and needed.

But there are still people in our country who think that the government doesn't give them enough.

While I was working at the Citizens Advice Bureau, I heard about phone calls from people who were angry about not having enough money, appealing for more benefits, and those people who had gotten themselves in a spot of bother by deals that were literally too good to be true.
You know those e-mails you get about how you've won a crazy amount of money, or from that guy in Nigeria who's minted but needs help transfering money? Well someone has to fall for it don't they? These are the people that call us.
Yet the government provide legal advice and a lawyer if neccessary.

I also worked in a government organisation that provides business advice. This includes seminars to help people start up their own business and personal advisors. It's a brilliant organisation with a vast source of information and resources. The minimum requirement was that people have some sort of business plan. From there, the advisors could suggest ways to improve it, recommend a specialised seminar, often with guest speakers who could provide further advice, and assist in securing funding from a bank.
What else could people want? A hand out apparently.
Pretty much every hour there would be someone calling up saying they had some sort of business idea, (usually selling things online) and needed £xxxx to set it up. No business plan, no further thought than how much money they need. When they are told that we provide assistance but no direct funding, they get angry and curse the government.

A Nanny State is a wonderful thing; we are looking after our needy and vulnerable. Helping those in desperate times. We can provide services such as healthcare and education to those who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford it. But every nanny, parent, guardian, should be wary of raising spoiled brats!  

No one is born with the right to welfare. There are many countries who don't have state funded health care or an extensive benefit system. There are also many who do, and arguably have a more efficient system than ours.
Places like Norway have one of the highest tax rates in the world, do they think that they deserve more from the government? Probably. We are human after all, but why aren't they having riots about it?
Why is their rate of unemployment still one of the lowest in the world at 3% (source: Google public data) when their highest tax bracket 48% and their VAT is 25%?
What about their unemployment benefit? Well, they get almost 88% of previous income earned (source: Forbes 2008)
That unemployment sofa looks even more comfortable there, doesn't it?
So why, do the Norwegians have a reputation for happily paying their taxes?

Maybe they just have a better attitude than us. Maybe their government isn't pandering to those who are down, rewarding them consistently for "bad behaviour".

Sometimes, some people need help. They need motivation, not justification. People throwing a temper tantrums when they can't have their own way is symtomatic of a system that is obviously spoiling us.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

The last 2 years feat. Pinterest

 When I was in school, through to when I graduated university, I wanted to be that proverbial change I wanted to see in the world. I had ideas about starting charities, helping people and being someone important. The ultimate dream was to work for the U.N. to travel around to the world, go to poverty stricken countries and feed the hungry.
I still hold on to this dream, although much less tightly than I used to.
Turns out that saving the world isn't easy. There's a lot of people in the world who also want to save it. They probably watched the same Oxfam ad that I did and decided that donating money wasn't enough. We wanted to feed them with our bare hands.
I got my dream after my first trip to China back in 2004. I saw a beggar on the street asking for money to feed his baby. The baby was in an oversized crib with a head 6 times larger than proportional to it's little body. What I had seen was the result of the baby milk scandal where powdered milk had been sold to families in China that had no nutritional value, leading to the malnutrition of hundreds of babies. This left me upset and angry, even years later and made me determined to do something so that this wouldn't happen again. I started dreaming up my orphanage scheme, where I would buy an orphanage and provide the same level of care to the children as those who were born in to more fortunate cicumstances. I remember an assembly in school where one of my teachers had adopted a baby from China and she told us of the conditions that they were kept in. I had further read about even worse conditions where babies were not so much cared for but left to die.
I wanted an orphanage that was more than just shelter, but a home, where the children would learn the same values and have the same opportunities and education as a child from an average family. There would be nurses with full training, playrooms where they are encouraged to develop their skills and a house parent - much like a boarding school.
I visit this dream every now and then and happily plant it in the future.

When I graduated, I knew I wasn't ready to enter the corporate world. I wasn't ready to commit to a life of slavery as I saw it at the time. I knew that if I did, it would be a long time before I would be able to do the things that I really wanted to do, which was travel. I figured that I was still young and this would be the only time in my life I could take the time to go off and do what I wanted without leaving behind a bucketful of responsibilities to worry about. I think a part of me believed that if I went and got that office job, it would shortly be followed by marriage, mortgage and children. All of which have more strings of responsibility than the world's worst bunny boiler.
Going travelling in retirement also wasn't an option for me. I saw travel as the portal to discovery. It would shape the person I am and teach me things that will be important for the rest of my life. Not things that I wanted to learn when it's already a bit late.
I also couldn't see a 75 year old version of myself going zorbing down a big hill or jumping off a waterfall.
I decided to do a CELTA so that I could travel the world and have a job that pays a little better than bar work.  I compared courses in different places, and decided that if a course in London, living at home was going to cost the same as going to Krakow and living there for a month, I would go to Krakow. It was a no brainer really.

When I completed the course, I was very excited about all the different places I could go around the world. Where would I live? What languages would I learn? Where would be a good spring board to go to other places from? When you're just starting out, it's the hardest. With no experience and nothing more than your qualifications, your bargaining rights are limited. I must've applied to 50 or more jobs, just anywhere and everywhere around the world that wasn't Europe. I wanted to get away as far as possible. I was one of those lazy applicants who sent out the same C.V and cover letter to every job. I had a phone interview with a school in Italy. It was a very small town on the coast and I remember being very nervous about finding a place to live and they had put me in touch with an older couple who could possibly help me. The pay was low and from what I could tell on the internet, living costs were high. But then I got another interview, this time with a school in Taiwan, but the interview itself would be held in London. I was very nervous the night before, but after the interview I felt great! I knew I had done well and exceeded their expectations so I was very excited. When I got the e-mail offering me the position I knew I would accept it and started planning my departure.

I received the job offer in January, but I wasn't due to fly out until April. That left me with a lot of time to work myself up in to a state of nerves.
A list of some the things that I was worried about:
  • It would be like China - a bit dirty and the people would be unfriendly.
  • I wouldn't fit in.
  • I wouldn't make any friends.
  • I didn't speak the language.
  • I didn't know anyone there.
  • I didn't know where I was going to live.
  • My living conditions would be really bad.
  • I wouldn't like Taipei.
  • What would my lifestyle be like there?
  • What would I eat?
  • What's there to do?
  • What if I don't make enough money to cover my living expenses?
While a couple of these were more curiosities than worries, every now and then it would pop up as a negative. The main one that worried me was that I wouldn't make any friends.
But, I'm a determined (and perhaps a little stubborn) person, so in the face of the fears I had I did my best to ignore them all and got very excited about living in a new country.

When I first arrived, I must admit, I was terrified. My language skills were even worse than I thought and the whole city seemed expansive. There was plenty to love about the city, but two of my scariest memories are when I was lost. The first time I was trying to buy a mobile phone. Someone had told me to go to Ximen and gave me an address. For those of you who have never been, this place is a maze where all the streets look the same - crowded and full of little shops and street vendors. I have no idea how long I was there for looking for this place, asking people if they knew where it was but no one seemed to or they pointed in a vague direction. Language skills would've helped.
In the end I felt completely overwhelmed, gave up and went home.

Me: 0  Taipei: 1

The second time, I was trying to get to Ikea. I spent 3 hours on buses and metros going around, back and forth to a place that was supposedly 30 minutes away. I was hot, frustrated, lost and scared. I almost ended up crying. But I refused to give up and go home so I conceded and took a taxi. Someone had been nice enough at the bus stop to write the address of Ikea for me on a piece of paper so I could give it to the taxi driver.

Me: 0.5 Taipei: 1.5

But this is just part of the process of moving to a new place. It happened to me in Chicago too where there is no language barrier. Cultural perhaps but nothing to hinder you asking for directions. The lesson I learnt is that obstacles are there to learn from. Being scared is just part of the process. Don't be scared of being scared.

My orginal plan was to go to Taiwan for one year, save some money and then go to Brazil for one year. I was firm in that plan until the time came where they asked me to sign another contract. I changed my mind and I didn't want to leave Taiwan at all. When I told them of my plan, which at the time was either:

a) find another job in another field in Taiwan
b) study Chinese full time

They told me they would accomodate my studies.
So after numerous job applications in different companies without success, I enrolled in the Chinese Culture University and study Chinese for three hours every morning and work in the evening.
I was very happy doing this. I made new amazing friends and worked in schools where I was happy.

The irony is not lost on me that you have to have the bad to appreciate the good. So was the case for this particular time in my life. A few months passed and I started feeling antsy. I had a very strong external influence, the other angel on my shoulder (from this post) reminding me that I had to settle down at some point. That I need to meet someone soon if I am to get married. Get a career to be financially stable.
This didn't sound like an awful idea so I gave my notice in to quit my job and made plans to move to Hong Kong to study diplomas in Graphic and Multimedia Design.

This is where I went wrong.

My mind was full of what I should have accomplished, where I should be, what I should be doing.

I went to Hong Kong and started applying for office jobs. I wasn't even that fussy about what kind. I ended up going to interviews for banks, and going on training courses which essentially taught us nothing but told us how easy it would be to make money if we worked for them. I made some cool friends, met lots of people from Mainland China and had a laugh but I could feel myself having the inner dialogue. One where Angel Me is telling me how this is everything I didn't want, but Angel Ma was telling me that the money is good and that's important for my future goals.

I was confused and unsure. I didn't know what my path was anymore and I felt lost.

I already knew the finance world wasn't for me when I did the internship in Chicago with Merrill Lynch. If I took this job, I would have to meet ridiculously high targets by selling investments to people. And when you're first starting out, the only people you can sell to are your family and friends. This isn't something I wanted to do. I didn't have enough experience or knowledge to be advising anyone where to put there money and I felt that I would be cheating them for the sake of my own gains.

I didn't enjoy my time in Hong Kong. I found it very difficult to get assimilated and after 3 months of still not feeling like it was home, I started to look for jobs elsewhere.
Happy coincidence was that it was my mum's 50th birthday and I decided that if I could get a job on a summer school in England, I would go back for the summer.
Which is what I ended up doing.

So while I'm back in England, I'm trying to get creative and focus more on practicing what I learnt on the diploma courses. I would like to improve my writing and try to build more of an online presence. I'm happy with the year I've had so far.

The summer school I worked at was amazing. I met some really cool people - no weirdos. Other than a lazy bum of a Rec Director and David Brent-esq Fat Controller look-a-like Course Director I really enjoyed my time in Epsom.
I got Grade 2 students, so barely beyond starter level, but some of them were 16! It was very challenging for me to teach things that they said they all knew but I still had to go over it. I tried to make it as interesting and fun as possible by playing ball games and utilising the smart board.
This is the video they made:
When they all passed the Trinity exam I was so happy. The whole experience was extremely rewarding and reminded me why I liked teaching to begin with.

I applied for jobs in Spain after hearing so many good things about it from the people in Epsom. My friend highly recommended one school after I told her I had applied to a few. It quickly became my first choice school and I was really hoping I would get it. I got the interview phone call while I was in Marks and Spencer rushing around to prepare for a party for four birthdays and our leaving of Epsom. It went really well and a few days later I heard from the school again to confirm their offer. I was so happy I couldn't stop smiling!

As happy as I was, I knew one person who wouldn't approve.

Cordoba looks beautiful. It's a short distance away from Seville and it's a historic city. It's not too large, it has all the modern amenities and the rent is cheap. I'm looking forward to living in a laid back environment, sipping on sangria!

All the picture quotes used are from Pinterest.