Contributing to the Citizens Advice Bureau and their work in the community has its advantages. The amount of information and learning resources at our disposal is genuinely amazing. However, the recent proposals by CitA, the central body of the Citizens Advice Bureau, to the local bureaux is that of a greater new media presence. This has led to a lengthy discussion between the local CAB and central office of CitA about the assistance people need in accessing online information. In one of the cases that I was dealing with, a gentleman had been sanctioned because he failed to apply for a job online. He had never been on a computer in his life. He came to the CAB for a food voucher. I asked ‘well maybe he could’ve asked for some assistance in applying for the job? ‘it turns out he had enrolled on one of the IT course that the Job Centre operates. Unfortunately, the waiting list was longer than his sanctioning date. What we are witnessing is a divergence in society. The old and the new. The analogue and the digital. Our national economy is a good example of this. The service and digital sectors are growing exponentially whilst the Port Talbot steel plant close and others face huge reductions in staff.
For those that are unaware, the Citizens Advice Bureau is not one big charity, with all the funds going to the top and distributed down. Instead, every ‘branch’ if you will, is its own independent charity. Therefore, they have their own fundraising, own buildings and locally organized people and events. Each local Bureaux then pays a subscription to the central body CitA, that then givens them access to the use of the name and branding, the computer operating system and CABLink, which is a superb resource that can also be subscribed to by charities, MP’s and research bodies. A meeting with everyone who works, is a trustee, or volunteers at the CAB that I volunteer at came to a conclusion that the subscription fee is quite steep for the benefits the charity receives.
People look at the CAB as a public service provided by government, mainly because they are a public service that aims to help all without judgement to reach a better place in life. Unfortunately, they not funded by government. Many believe the CAB is actually picking up work that in the past, paid governmental services would have done, but due to cut backs, are not. Instead, many are paid for via funds from councils, bursaries, grants, fundraising, etcetera. It works for councils to pay for CAB services, as they do not need to provide one themselves, and can save themselves a lot of work and effort but giving someone else the money to do it. I would also like to think that even in my biased position, the CAB that I volunteer at is very efficient with its money.
The reason that this ‘new social apartheid’ came to me was that the CAB sees lots of people who are a product of Britain’s changing role in the world. This has been reported on widely and for many years, that we don’t make anything, skills are being lost and dying out and we shall never see these trades again. Now whether you believe this or not is really irrelevant, because the focus on skills has fundamentally changed. This, whether is a coincidence or not, is seen with the rise of social mobility and personal computer use. The term is ‘transferrable skills.’
Anybody who has started university in the last five or so years will know this all too well. Universities are trying to give students value for money. Mainly because students are taking on a huge debt for a degree that half of people have [over generalization there, granted]. So no employer is looking at a person purely based on their 2.1 in English Language from the University of Leicester. Instead, people are now looking at a broader picture of a student.
I sat in a career planning interview during my master’s degree. This was entirely optional but my university offered it for two reasons. First, value for money for students, and secondly, to ensure that their students are in employment quickly after graduating. The figure of 90-odd percent of graduates are in employment six months or less after leaving this institution will be seen on every piece of point-of-sale in every university on every open day. I was told that my 2.1 in my undergraduate degree plus my six months studying abroad during my second year was as, if not more desirable to a potential employer than someone with a first class honours degree. I didn’t want to believe him, mainly because I thought six months boozing in France was in no way comparable to working significantly harder, and in a more organized manner for three years, but also because I was under the impression the best jobs should go to those with the best degrees.
As it turns out, I was kind of half right. Every university wants their students to graduate with at least a 2.1. A first is great, but a 2.1 will really prove that you do have a brain in that head of yours. Of course, this is entirely unfair to those who achieved 2.2’s, and takes no account for context etc. But a 2.1 proves that you have a couple of basic skills that are desirable in the work place. Critical thinking, good IT skills, independent working, target driven, well organized, good standard of English etc. It is almost irrelevant which degree you do, particularly in humanities, but a 2.1 will show this to an employer. Therefore, people I went to school with who studied History and now are junior producers for ITV did not get the job based on their historical knowledge of Coronation Street [I presume] but instead, for the transferable skills that they achieved getting a good degree, from a good university.
This is not all about the job market either. People’s interactions have fundamentally changed. Our locations have changed. My father, for example, apprenticed for an engineering firm five miles from his home village. His father worked for a similar firm. My grandfather on my mother’s side was stationed about three miles from my grandmother’s home village in the war. They met, married and lived within a two square mile area. My mother lives two roads away from my grandmother today.
Now what has happened in recent years is the expanse of a variety, including the job market. My eldest sister still lives a couple of miles from our hometown but my other sister moved away for work. She now has another job and a family fifty miles from where we all grew up. I moved to another country at one point to study. A lot of this can be based on increased social mobility, faster travel with improved infrastructure or even just young people’s desire to move, which is certainly not a new thing. But many of my friends have recently graduated and moved into London. Not a rarity these days. But these jobs are largely in the technology, recruitment, media and communications or marketing. None of these jobs are badly paid either, all of which I would say are around the average national wage.
So what does this have to do with a social apartheid? Well, when it comes to jobs, the market and individual wants from either a job or a career has changed. There are a hundred reasons for this. For example, people having children later in life means that individuals can travel for work more than ever before. Women have more professional careers than they did thirty or forty years ago and people do look abroad for work more than ever before. However, the way people acquire a job has changed.
The man I spoke about earlier who visited the CAB for a food voucher trained for a career that was he thought was for life. As technology changed society around him, he did not adapt to it, because he had no need. Whether you agree that he should have reacted or not is neither here or there. What is happening though is a fundamental split in the workforce. Many who do not have other qualifications, degrees, transferable skills or other interests outside of their work struggle in a modern job hunt.
But this goes even further. ‘For more information, visit our website’, ‘Shazam for more details’, ‘Follow us on Twitter’, ‘Like Us on Facebook for exclusive’, ‘Did you see there Instagram post?’ At the CAB, we are helping more and more people find information about government decisions such as changes in the law or benefit entitlements because it is moving online. This is reducing costs but that comes at a secondary cost of never helping those who need the IT assistance. Whilst those who aren’t online can live a perfectly happy and fulfilling life without the internet, the world around them is almost forcing them into recluse. Articles in newspapers about people going without a smartphone for a week are all too common because it is so mind-boggling bizarre that anyone could live without a smart phone. To exacerbate this, any leap into the tech world by getting even a modest smartphone requires logins and registrations that could be the deterrent that leaves these people behind for good. This may well lead to the separation between those have adapted to the online, interconnected world and those haven’t. We need to remember that the world, however much we don’t like to admit it, does not revolve around us being online. And I write this for an online magazine that I founded with help from friends that are all over the world that I stay connected with via Facebook and email. Damn….