Voluntary Problems…

9 12 2010

I’ve been blogging less and less frequently recently, largely due to work, but also due to an increase in general apathy with the news. It isn’t that I’m not interested, it’s more that I see no need to write about it, especially when an old friend of mine is writing things much more eloquently over on the Paperback Rioter.

However, I do finally wish to end my blogging hiatus by writing about a growing problem for aspiring professionals such as myself. The problem is simple: volunteers.

Now I volunteer once a week at my local archives with the goal of gaining valuable experience which will benefit me in the long term. I have been doing this for 18 months or so and have picked up lots about how archives are run and what goes on ‘behind the scenes’. I have contributed to various projects during my time there and am being given larger projects to contribute to. Which is good for me.

However, the very large, and very frustrating catch-22 which has been created is that The Society of Archivists actively encourage volunteers. Of course, the advantage that this gives individual archives is that they have an unpaid work-source doing jobs which ought to be done by those employed within the profession. Volunteers sustain the archives. As a consequence therefore, the archives are then not going to employ somebody if they can have (such as in my case) at least four volunteers coming in and regularly completing tasks. The role of the volunteer is a huge, and still growing, one.

Volunteers pick up the slack somewhat, willingly completing the mind-numbingly boring tasks which the archivists and assistant archivists do not do. We do this because we think that this is giving us ‘valuable’ experience. I’m no longer sure. Do employers really want someone who can simply transcribe names from a census into a digital spreadsheet, for instance? It isn’t exactly hard, even allowing for some of the writing. It tells prospective employers nothing about my ability to do anything more than mundane tasks, which, lets be honest, monkeys with typewriters could do.

By actively encouraging volunteers though, the Society of Archivists is narrowing down an already small market into something almost impossibly hard to get into. There is a list on their website with various archiving institutions nationwide on. Last year this list included information about which institutions would take on trainees, apprentices and the like, in paid roles. This year the list has shrunk, and, by and large, details places which accept volunteers. The number of apprentice or trainee opportunities has fallen dramatically, a consequence, perhaps of the recession; but more likely, of the realisation that volunteers can maintain the industry whilst archives can get away with employing only a skeleton staff.

Tightening the belt, yes, I get, but pretty much blocking access to the sector? Really? For an industry concerned with maintenance for the future, this approach seems to have very obvious, and very negative consequences. This problem came to a head recently as I was invited to apply for a post with the local council by my archives on the back of my volunteering. When I asked for more information about the post, I was then told that I could not apply because I had a degree and was already employed. I do have a degree. It is in history, not archiving. I am employed, although officially not full-time, and in a minimum wage retail job, taken out of necessity. This meant I could not apply for the post, which sounded like a great practical opportunity.

So, I have to continue volunteering because my applications for jobs tend to get met with the response “lacks experience”. Through volunteering I am able to gain some experience, but I am also a free labour source for the archives, and therefore am providing them with no real incentive to create opportunities for young people to get into the sector. And those opportunities they do create I am not allowed to apply for because I already have a job. In something completely not related to archiving.

The system is broken by volunteers, but it is also sustained. The authorities need to work out a happier balance to this problem, or face being short of staff because it is simply too hard to get into the profession in future years. Of course they won’t solve this problem, and there will be consequences. It’ll be ok though, because volunteers will shoulder the burden of sustaining an incredibly detailed and complex profession.


Stand up straight…

26 03 2008

Ever one for cutting news, I thought I would just have a quick think about the recent concerns about armies and schools.

At my school we had, every year, a careers ‘festival’ (I am still not quite sure why it was so called, but anyway…). At this event there were at least a hundred different professions or universities represented by someone. One of which was the armed forces. Now I attended three of these events during my school life, the first was when I was 15. I considered myself old enough to not be ‘brainwashed’ by any of the careers which were on show there. I readily accepted that all came with the intention of pulling students into this career or that career. Maybe this explains why I have not found anything I really enjoyed doing yet, or maybe it doesn’t.

Anyway, the point is, I didn’t know anyone who absolutely knew what they wanted to do at that age. Nor did they a year later. Nor a year after that. Not completely at any rate. People have ideas of what field they might want to go into by the time they are 17, but not the actual job.

One of my mates was, when he was 16, dead keen to be in the navy. This eagerness continued through his school life, but he didn’t leave after his GCSE’s, and instead completed his A Levels. Now when I say dead keen, I really mean it. The navy stand was the only one he would ever go to, and he would spend ages and ages talking to the people about life in the navy. He was more than interested. Yet he didn’t join up after his GCSE’s. Someone talked him out of it, somehow.

This friend is now studying business at uni, and, the last time I checked, has given up on a career in the armed forces in any capacity.

My point is that people change their minds. I mean, if I had stuck to my plan, I would be on my way to being an architect now. And, let me assure you, I’m not.

Because of this though, I agree that we should allow the army into schools to talk to people about future careers. To my mind it is the same as someone from a lawyers office, or a doctors practise, or a hairdressing salon coming and talking about their work. To me, the students need to know what is out there. The armed forces is a career that is out there. So it makes sense to let them talk about what they do.

Now I do disagree with the idea of people signing up at 16. That is too young for me. Let them sign up at 18 if they so wish, two years initial training, with the option to opt out at certain points is, to me, much better than the same thing began two years earlier. But I think that they should know about the options and reach a decision as they are growing up. Just like they know about what it is a hot- shot lawyer does, for example.

I do not buy into this whole ‘propaganda’ talk. I think it is part and parcel of society nowadays, and I’m sure desires to be a doctor for example are because of the ‘glamourous’ nature of the doctors that are on tv (the guy from Lost, for example). That is as bad, to me, as recruitment posters for the army which glamourise the work they do.

It is all propaganda I think (rather cynically). A glossy brochure showing why its great being a lawyer or doctor or hairdresser is part of the aim for each of these businesses, to attract more people in. The army should be allowed to do the same. But it shouldn’t want to start this recruitment drive at 16.

Just as way of an afterthought, but for anyone else who had, or went to similar events, was there ever anyone there from the workshop floor of a factory for example? Or who drove lorries? I know there wasn’t for me, but then again, I went to a private school…

Anyone fancy giving me a job?

5 03 2008

As I am very much on the lookout for work following the end of my university studies, I was pleased to see this news floating around.

The minimum wage has helped very many people in work earn enough money to live on even when everything else has been taken away. Whilst trying to work out how much money I would have to survive next year, obviously the only benchmark I had was the minimum wage. This increase, albeit by only 21p, is mcuh welcomed. What irks me though is that as a youngster for my academic year, if earning minimum wage, I would be stuck at the £4.77 level as opposed to people in the same year earning £5.73. That whole pound difference really does add up.  It’s about £8 a day. That’s £40 a week. To me, that’s a lot of money to be missing out on just because my birthday is in August.

Leaving my issues aside for a moment though, I was surprised to find out that there were still some 150,000 people being paid under the minimum wage. Personally I don’t think I would stand for it, but I realise that circumstances dictate otherwise. If you need the work, you are glad of the income, and if you earn £5225pa, you avoid income tax. The question is whether you could live on that much a year. Especially with costs rising all the time.

I will return to my initial musings then: is there anyone out there who reads this that fancies giving me a job?

No? Damn…