“If the unemployed don’t have a job, let’s give them something to do!”

Any time you get into a discussion about requirements for people to get something, like voter tests, or unemployment compensation, somebody will trot out the prospect of requiring continuing education and/or volunteer work as a condition for welfare/unemployment compensation.

While this may seem like a good idea on the surface, I’m willing to bet that proponents of this theory have never collected a string of “thank you for you interest, but we will not be pursuing you application further,” letters and unanswered applications. Truth is, job-hunting takes time. Paper applications can take over 20 minutes each to complete, on-line applications can take over an hour. Then you’re all over town, looking for “help wanted” signs in the windows and hopefully, interviewing for jobs. If you’re spending 30 hours (a number suggested by a certain poster as a requirement to receive benefits) a week on volunteering and continuing education, when are you going to look for a job?

Another problem is the perception that people are unemployed because they either lack any job skills or their skills are specialized for an industry that has suddenly shrunk. In many cases,  the unemployed may have perfectly useful skills, but may be consistently getting edged out by someone who’s just a little better fit for the job, or suffers from having skills that are quite useful for the job, but simply don’t show through given the checklist approach many employers are putting into their job applications. As an example, Ive been an avid shutterbug for over twenty years, with experience in several types of film as well as digital. You would think that would be something a photo lab would like to know, right? Well I applied to a photo lab. The on-line application had many questions about how I would feel about abandoning my own duties to help a customer or fellow employee, how cheerfully I would deal with rude customers or blab Corporate’s latest script, but the only thing they wanted to know about me that had anything to do with photography was whether or not I had worked in a photo lab before. (Shall I mention that this photo lab was unable to identify an unmounted 35mm slide, and was unable to provide some customers with a media card for their camera, despite the fact that the camera clearly indicated the type of card required and they had it in stock?) And if you’re thinking there was somewhere in the application I could bring this knowledge up: Nope. No blank field where you could write in “any other skills that may be useful to this job.”

Then there’s this business of education. Some skills, like “card punch operation,” get outdated. Some, like “frying hamburgers,” don’t. Some can get a little stale, like “tax preparation,” but you don’t have to go out and get a new degree,  just a refresher that you have no reason to take unless you’ve got a job to use it with. Sometimes the same skill set can be adapted to jobs that may not seem to be related, say a “catalog designer” reapplying their skill of “concentrating information into a format the average person can absorb” into “adult education.” (Both of those are entirely within the education of a technical communications major, but many perspective employers don’t even know such a major exists.)

Consider this: You’re a garage looking for a new mechanic. Most of your customer base has mid-century Fords and Dodges. You figure since cars have so many electronics nowadays, perspective applicants should be able to fill out an on-line application. You set up the application with the usual fields (personal data, education, previous employers). Candidate A has a recent degree from a Ford-certified course and an apprenticeship with the service department of a new-car dealership. Candidate B has no education beyond high school or any employment related to cars. Who do you hire? Oh, by the way, Candidate B was raised on a farm (yes, he mentioned this in his job history, but he only had enough room to say they raised corn and milked cows, not that the tractor was an ornery pile of manure they had to fix weekly)  and drives a 1974 Ram that he rebuilt from little more than a hulk (He didn’t mention it because he didn’t do it as a hobby, it was something he was given, and he fixed it up because he couldn’t afford to buy a car.) Does that change your answer?

And what if you’re trying to produce things on your own, with something that could be a business if you can get it going, but you can’t find enough time because you’re so busy “volunteering”? Tying strings like this actually becomes a well-intentioned trap that leaves people with no time to get out of their situation.

I’ve worked for no pay, at jobs that they could have paid me for–if I was a senior citizen. But because of the non-profit rules they operated under, they couldn’t pay me, being able-bodied and in prime working years.

And for the record, I am unemployed and NOT getting unemployment, welfare, or any kind of government assistance. I might end up on Medicare thanks to Obamacare, since I obviously have no money for insurance. Not that I want it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to checking my inbox for any job opportunities via my ten-year-old laptop on my library’s hit-and-miss Wi-Fi. It takes me 3-5 hours a day. Every day.

Oh, yeah. And check the royalties on my first book. I’m working on the second, but it’s hard to find time when you need 4 hours a day (and “sunny” hours, to boot, because that’s when the library’s open, so that’s fewer hours of light to be photographing illustrations for my books) just to get through your email, and the rest of the world is snatching pieces of your time here and there, thinking you’re “free” because you don’t have a “job.”

This entry was posted in Stop the planet, I want to get off!, Who's Nose, Who's Fist? and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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