A Rock, a Hard Place, and some Coffee

“I should have realised when I saw the word ‘Apprentice’” spat my friend, guzzling the fuel of the full-time-unemployed-application-writer (obscenely strong coffee). I consoled:

“Excuse the…lateral…use of language, but it’s symptomatic of the late ‘paradigm shift’ that has seen a stick of dynamite lit at both ends, with the only question being Which way to face when the fuse is up?” My rhetoric struck a chord, despite its redundant flamboyance.

“Which way do you think I should face, Qfwfq?” continued my friend, fanning away with yet another rejection letter. Quite why we had decided to drink coffee on the hottest day in history I do not know; perhaps it was some form of self harm.

I considered the question at length, juggling with a hypothesis so grim that the light at any end of any tunnel may as well be an oncoming train. You see, on the one hand my friend should continue to apply for the entry level positions they had set their ambitious eyes on since the beginning of the end of their academic studies; on the other, the very same positions (or at least similar ones that may soon lead to where they originally eyeballed) should be accessed via a six month stint on Job Seekers Allowance – in order to qualify for some Government ‘initiative’ – leading to ‘prioritised’ employment.

With the recession tightly squeezing industries by the kahoonies, ensuring that many who have been made redundant begin applying for sideways or, indeed, step-down positions, and graduates (largely) giving up the entry-level ghost in reaction to market saturation in more experienced competitors: it has never been more redundant to have a degree. Particularly, as my friend found out, when (some) positions that are a step down from ‘entry-level’ are being reserved for those who have been on JSA for a minimum of 6 months, and sometimes exclusively for people without Higher Education certification, it looks increasingly as though graduates are being marooned by a freight ship called Experience on a desert island named Overqualifiedicus.

“Bloody recession,” my friend grunted from the bottom of his double-shot peppermint mocha, with whipped cream and grated chocolate. However, much to my own surprise, I did not necessarily agree with my unemployed coffee-house buddy. I must proceed with caution.

“Tell me… what was it that caused The Great War again?” Surprised by the tangential motion of my conversation, I was greeted with an elongated “er…” before “…something to do with Franz Ferdinand and an assassination?” Nine times out of ten this is a standard answer. To a degree, it is correct. That is if I were to have asked “What started The Great War?” – which is not what I asked. Ask an Historian what caused it, and behold the torrent of diplomatic conflict this, and colonial rule that, amongst other histo-political paraphernalia.

After some explanation (not dissimilar to the above), I continued: “So, what has caused a decline in graduate recruitment or, indeed, the weakening of Higher Education certification?” A long pause.

“I assume you’re not looking for what has ‘started it’ but what has ‘caused it’, and thus if I were to reply recession I’d disappoint you ever so much, Matron.” Overlooking the Matron jibe, I confirmed his hypothesis:

“Academic hyperinflation.”

Hyperinflation? I thought that was a monetary concern?”

“I’m speaking metaphorically.”

“Should have known.”

“Inflation, in economics, is generally measured at intervals over a year. Hyperinflation is a ‘condition’ of extreme inflation, and is usually measured over a shorter period of time – I assume in relation to economic circumstances-

“-A recession?”

“-Don’t interrupt. In these two, we have: the Government’s devaluing of degree certification with their aspirations towards ensuring 50% of young people attends university (inflation); and a sharp increase in the ‘value’ of employment during a recession, coupled with an increasing number of job seekers, and a record number of graduates (hyperinflation). Labour sowed the seed; the recession merely hyperinflated it.”

“And now the ‘paradigm has shifted’?” Without reference to the crassness of this last statement, I nodded my head:

“Experience reigns supreme, and it is under the sole jurisdiction of the employer. The rest of us are Olivers forming an endlessly snaky queue, waiting in line to ask, nay beg: Please sir, can you afford some experience – and then perhaps a job?…God forbid we should have to ask for more.

“So which way should I face?”

“Is your glass half empty, or half full?” We sat in silence, both contemplating what a complete waste of time the little letters after our name were. Or so it is easy to think, when the chips are down and the fuse is nearly spent. The luckless coffee-guzzler broke the silence, and fittingly concluded our conversation:

“When I left school…perhaps I should have done an apprenticeship.”

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