Chapter 4: A Futile Chore
Footnote: Bureaucracy: The Imposed Rules of Job-Seeking
Though few, there are some within the Employment Service who recognise that the unemployed need and deserve help. They try to provide it as best they can. Unfortunately, the inflexible rules through which they are forced to give this help turn the whole process of seeking a job into a futile chore.
Obligation To Provide
Within the jurisdiction of the state in which I live, all fit and able men are required by law to endeavour to provide for themselves and their dependants.
This does not necessarily mean that they must work. The most respected members the society within which I live don't work. They live by investment or profit, both of which are acquired by bleeding off a proportion of the economic gain derived from the labour of others. Such people think that they work harder than most. However, their 'labour' is not productive labour. It is merely the labour of funnelling as much of the gain from the labour of others as possible into their own pockets. Not surprisingly, such people always seem to end up with vastly more wealth than do those whose labour creates it.
They are able to live by investment and profit because they own, and hence control the use of, the economic resources which convert work into wealth. They own the land, the capital, the 'good will', the market share. The remaining majority, off whose labour the wealthy live, possess no economic means through which they can transform their labour into their needs of life. This vast majority cannot provide for themselves or their dependants other than by selling their labour to somebody of means.
Obligation To Work
The obligation to provide for oneself and one's dependants thus, for the vast majority of people, cannot other than translate into an obligation to work.
However, those who must live by their labour - no matter how hard they may work - never seem to be able to accrue wealth. They seem only ever able to acquire enough to live on at the time. At times they may live well. Often they live poorly. Nevertheless, there seems to be some agency or mechanism which imposes an upper limit or ceiling upon what they can acquire. The situation is captured well by the famous saying: "Those who work have not; those who have work not."
The people who "work not" are actually free to choose to "work not". The thing which gives them this choice is their possession of a disproportionate share of the economic means of transforming human work into wealth. The sad irony is that these, who live off the labour of others, are actually respected for it. They are looked up to and revered for no reason other than that they have somehow acquired wealth.
Obligation To Seek Work
However, in today's society there is an ever swelling throng of people who "work not" and "have not". These people - of which I am one - "work not" not out of choice, but because that other community of "work nots" won't allow us access to the economic means of turning our work into wealth. The further irony is that because we who "have not and work not" receive a pittance from the rest of society to sustain our biological existences, we are despised by the rest of society. We are seen as slothful wasters living on the backs of the poor over-worked tax payer.
Perhaps the poor over-worked tax payer should compare how much of his tax goes to sustaining the unemployed with how much of the wealth which his labour actually creates goes towards the corporate profits of the rich. I suggest that he will find that it is the idle rich who are living on the backs of the workers: not the unemployed. And be also aware that it is the "have and work not" who decides (entirely out of self-interest) who shall "work and have little" and who shall "work not and have not".
Nevertheless the vast majority will always respect wealth and power while despising poverty and weakness. It keeps strife at bay. That's the coward's way.
Under Stifling Constraints
Those who "work not" by choice are free to run their lives as they wish. They are free to come and go as they please. They are free to travel whenever and wherever they please. They are free to hire or fire whomsoever they will whenever they will.
We, on the other hand, upon whom a "work not" status is imposed by others, are not free. We are required by law to seek work. We must seek by all endeavour to relieve the poor over-worked tax payer of his burden of preserving our miserable undeserving lives. However, we are required to do this under the following constraints:
- we must seek a permanent job with an employer: this means I am not free to take on self-employed work even from former customers or clients.
- we must seek such a job using a pre-defined inflexible procedure: this may work for some occupations but it certainly has not done so for mine.
These constraints have, for more than 10 years, locked me into a futile loop which my circumstances guarantee can never result in employment. Notwithstanding, in order to continue to qualify to receive state welfare I must plod like a caged animal round and round this endless loop forever - or at least, until I reach the age of 65.
The Endless Loop
Everybody who has been unemployed for over 6 months is required to attend what is currently called a Restart Course. This is followed by 6 months mandatory attendance at what is currently called a Job Club. The names may change from time to time to suit the political whim and expedience of the day. But the purpose is always the same. It is to equip the unemployed with a Curriculum Vitae or CV (that's a résumé in American) and then set them going looking for work according to the same strict narrow inflexible uninspiring and ineffective catch-all procedure.
Once your 6 months of Job Club have finished, you are required to carry on looking for work on your own - again according to the same strict narrow inflexible uninspiring and ineffective catch-all procedure. If you are still out of work 6 months later you are put on another Restart Course followed by another 6 months of Job Club. And so it continues.
I Don't Need A CV
Having had a career in the large corporate computer industry followed by 15 years as a self-employed software developer I have always maintained a good quality current CV. I have regularly throughout my career taken time out to review it and improve its presentation. I have read books on how to produce a good CV. I have discerned and judged the relevance and applicability of what each book said and then changed my CV accordingly. I don't need help starting from scratch every 6 months on the basics of putting together a CV.
Yet I have had to sit there with other unemployed people (some of whom did not have a clue how to produce a CV) and listen to the same old time wasting lecture on how to think back over the jobs we have done and write down the dates and details. This can take a whole week. The next phase is when the Job Club leader reviews each person's effort individually in one-to-one talk sessions and offers advice on how to improve it. This phase can extend over the whole 6 months of the Job Club.
On some Restart Courses the leader, upon seeing my CV, has simply gasped in amazement and said "What on Earth are you doing here? This course is a complete waste of time for you." Others have said "That CV is all well and good, but we do it differently here. This is how you do a CV..." Others have criticised it to death and hacked it about into something quite different and which (to my mind at least) was not remotely in keeping with what is expected in my industry.
Eventually, after about my 5th Restart Course, I realised that the form and appearance of my CV had started to follow a closed cycle. I would show it to the Job Club leader. He would criticise it. He would rearrange it. He would emphasis some of its features and diminish others. The leader of the next Job Club would then criticise that version of my CV and turn it back into what I had originally - or at least something inseparably close to it. The process has become a complete and futile waste of time.
The second week of a Restart Course is usually concerned with interview techniques. Throughout my whole career my job has involved meetings, information gathering sessions, selling situations, training others and even interviewing people for projects. I am comfortable talking to people in an interview. It is natural to me. Repeatedly going over the basic mechanics is decidedly unhelpful. This is another regular exercise in time wasting which I have had to endure during each Restart Course I have attended.
Apart from the first fortnight, the entire 6 months of Job Club is supposed to be used to look for a job. The method is to come in each day (for 4 days a week) and:
- scan the job advertisements in all the major newspapers
- select the ones which advertise jobs which you feel you can do
- use the Job Club's computer to write an application letter
- post it to the appropriate employer enclosing your CV
Plain, simple, and in my industry today, totally ineffective for the following reasons.
- Newspaper advertisements are probably the most fickle method imaginable of getting the right people in the right jobs.
- Jobs for people of my age, skills, experience and background are very rarely, if ever, advertised in newspapers anyway.
Such vacancies are invariably filled through the industry grapevine. Even the few jobs which are advertised are, for all practical purposes, unobtainable through conventional means. The computer industry is extremely fast paced. A job vacancy is filled not next week, not tomorrow but barely an hour or two from when it appears.
It does not matter whether one is a mature person searching the grapevine, or a young graduate seeking his first job. To have a chance, both must use the medium which the industry expects its members to use nowadays, namely the Internet. Jobs advertised in a newspaper are gone before the advert is printed. The young graduate must scan an employment agency Web site and apply immediately by email. The older person must know somebody who is in a position to offer him work, but again the contact must be by email. People in the computer industry cannot be bothered nowadays with the slow formalities of paper mail.
Job Clubs do not have email or Internet access. Neither do Jobcentres! At least not at the time of writing (October 1998). In any case, an unemployed attendee of a Job Club would not have a permanent email address there even if the Job Club itself were connected. But in this industry today, if you're not connected you're not there. If, as a result of existing for 10 years on state welfare, you cannot afford a modern personal computer and an Internet connection, searching for a job in that industry is futile.
The Inner Loop
Notwithstanding the above, the job seeker has to follow the rules of job seeking laid down by those in authority. These rules define an 'outer' loop whereby the job seeker is required to attend a Restart Course followed by Job Club every six months for six months. Within this outer loop is an inner loop of daily procedure as follows.
- scan the newspapers to find suitable job to apply for
- write a covering letter, attach CV and post it off
- await reply: if no positive reply go back to 1
- fill out and return application form complete with references
- await reply: if no positive reply go back to 1
- attend interview if invited
- await reply: if no positive reply go back to 1
This is a daily procedure. One is required to seek work every day. Every two weeks when one 'signs on' to confirm that one is still unemployed, one must present evidence that one has indeed searched for work every day. Otherwise the amount of one's state welfare can be reduced at the discretion of the Employment Services staff.
In addition to newspapers, the Employment Services' National Vacancies System (NATVACS) is also an approved source of job leads. This is queried for suitable vacancies for me every fortnight when I 'sign on'. The query is effected by entering my Standard Occupational Classification Numbers (SOCs). It returns a list of vacancies which have been posted onto the system within the preceding fortnight by employers and employment agencies. However, those who post the vacancies know that the resulting job applications will come from people who are unemployed. Not exactly their first choice as a source of candidates. Consequently, the jobs one finds on the NATVACS are those which nobody else wants. The bottom of the pile.
The three 'wait' states in the above procedure can include telephone follow-ups and even faxes sent via the Job Club's fax machine.
Companies like their application forms to be standardised. You have to fill in the same form no matter what kind of job you are applying for. But a company application form is inevitably as ineffective at presenting what I am professionally as a newspaper advert is at accurately specifying a job. My career does not readily lend itself to being straight jacketed into the rigid format of most company application forms. It is not possible to fit a representative picture of the truth in the format they require. Lots of space ends up empty while many items of key information have no place. Despite this, most personnel departments ignore my CV and use only their application forms.
On less than a handful of occasions over the past 10 years I have by some miracle been invited to an interview. There I must humour a technically ignorant interviewer as best I can and somehow maintain my sanity through the inevitable psychometric and aptitude tests. Finally, I wait for the positive reply which never comes. To emphasise the futility of this final wait I have done what no self-respecting programmer would ever do in a computer program. I have left the final 'wait' test unterminated. That is how confident I am now that the process will never fall through Step 7. Then, as I am inexorably required to do, I go back to Step 1 and start all over again.
Cat and Mouse
I am never actually helped to apply for a job. I must do that all by myself. I am nevertheless under constant surveillance. It is like being a prisoner in Bentham's panopticon. I never know when the eyes of guard are upon me.
The Jobcentre maintains this fear of surveillance by making spot check telephone calls to employers to whom I am supposed to have applied for a job as a result of searches done via the Jobcentre's NATVAC computer system. The Jobcentre asks the employer if he has had a job application from me. If the employer says "no", or has no record or recollection of it, then I receive a letter effectively accusing of failing to apply for the job. The penalty for this is to lose my welfare. A pretty drastic penalty. I then have to give a reason as to why I failed to apply for the job.
But although I, as a job seeker, am required by law to apply for the job under threat of losing my means to live, the employer is under no obligation to record the fact that I have applied to him for the job he advertised on NATVACS. If he throws my CV in the bin without even looking at it, he suffers no penalty whatsoever. On the other hand, the employer is taken to be a respected upstanding honest member of society, while I, the job seeker, am taken to be a sloth of dubious honesty.
Fortunately I have so far always been able to produce sufficient evidence that I have applied for the job. But the ax is forever poised above me, threatening to cut off the needs of life to my family and me. It is an extremely stressful existence - especially on top of all the other stresses caused by my family circumstances.
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© May 1998 Robert John Morton