Diminishing prospects and fewer choices


JOB FRONT:JUST BEFORE Claire Kane graduated with a media production degree last October, a job she had lined up in sales fell through and she found herself unemployed for the first time. She had been working in retail since she was 16. With intense competition for a dwindling number of graduate jobs, she was facing into an employment market that offered few prospects.

“For every career job I applied for, I was told I needed experience, but for retail jobs I was overqualified,” says Kane (22). “It is expected of us to work for free now, but my brothers and sister and older cousins were never expected to do that.

“There’s no generation gap between us as such, but there’s a huge difference in our job expectations starting out.”

Five years ago the labour market was heavily weighted in favour of employees, who could pick and choose between the myriad opportunities on offer. Now the power lies in the hands of employers, who are increasingly favouring casual, short-term and part-time contracts over permanent staff positions.

Internships and unpaid freelance work is increasingly necessary for young people to gain the experience they need to apply for the few jobs that are on offer, while more stay longer in education in the hope of improving their employment prospects.

Unemployment, internships, free work and further study mean young people are pushing out that first step on the pay scale until they are older. What impact will this have in the long term and can they possibly look forward to greater job security in the future?

Just one in four people between 15 and 24 is now at work in Ireland. Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that 34 per cent of those who had a job in 2011 were employed on a temporary rather than permanent basis, a three-fold increase on 2005 figures.

The share of young employees in part-time positions has also increased dramatically, from 22 per cent in 2005 to 44 per cent in 2011. This reflects a trend towards short-term contracts and more casual employment arrangements across Europe since the recession began.

Seán Gannon, director of the careers advisory service in Trinity College Dublin, believes young people need to recalibrate their expectations in a labour market that has changed significantly since the boom.

“This is the future employment landscape,” he says. “Graduates can no longer expect to derive all of their income or their experience from working full time, five days a week for the same employer any more, especially at the beginning of their careers.”

Even new teachers, who until recently were almost guaranteed a “job for life”, are finding it difficult to make a living on the hours they are offered. One in four second-level teachers is on a part-time contract, and the average new entrant takes five years to gain permanency.

Graduate salaries in private industry are down by about €2,000 since 2008, to the €24,000-€26,000 range, according to the 2012 GradIreland Graduate Salary and Recruitment Trends survey for 2012.

New teachers will earn about 20 per cent less than those who secured permanent jobs as recently as two years ago under new Government cost-saving measures, and similar cuts to wages and allowances are on the cards for new staff across the public sector.

The diminishing prospect of permanent work and lower salary expectations are breeding deep uncertainty about long-term prospects in Ireland, according to a survey carried out by National Youth Council of Ireland last year. Respondents said they could cope with having no money in the short term, but not knowing whether they would have a secure income next year or the year after made it impossible to plan for the future.

“If they are getting temporary precarious work, they don’t know from month to month if they’ll be able to pay the bills. People can only do that for so long,” says James Doorley, the council’s assistant director. “It can be extremely difficult to commit to buying a car or renting an apartment, and in the longer term, people will delay applying for a mortgage or getting married if their career hasn’t taken off.”

Doorley believes a lot of young people who have jobs are choosing to quit and emigrate in search of better opportunities elsewhere.

“They aren’t willing to wait around until the labour market improves, to suffer the poor conditions, low pay and lack of certainty, and have decided their skills and talents would be better rewarded in another country,” he says.

As a member of the youth organisation SpunOut, Claire Kane has heard young people express similar worries about their long-term prospects.

From a personal perspective, she had been looking forward to graduating so she could start earning a proper salary and move out of the family home in Raheny in Dublin.

A year on, though, she is still living with her parents because the €50 she receives on top of her dole while completing a digital marketing placement through JobBridge has not been enough to pay the rent on a place of her own.

“The reality is we have to stay in college longer or work for free. If you’re not getting paid, you can’t save for a house or a family. It has a domino effect on all those life events.”

Last Friday Kane learned her employer has decided to keep her on after the internship finishes at the end of this month. Her career is about to begin and those “life events may not have to be put on hold for so long after all. “It is hard to work for free, but from the perspective of a young person, experience is the most important thing you can get. Persistence and hard work does eventually pay off, even if it is initially for little reward.”

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