Conor Quinn, 26: ‘Unemployment teaches you to survive without money’

Conor Quinn has struggled to find work since graduating from his philosophy degree. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan

Conor Quinn has struggled to find work since graduating from his philosophy degree. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan

 

This article is part of The Irish Times Generations project. Since April 2014, people ranging in age from 20 to 102 have shared their views on Irish life, past and present, with reporter Rosita Boland. Read all those published so far at irishtimes.com/generations

 

Conor Quinn lives in Kilkenny city

The Celtic Tiger was the norm when I was growing up. I was born into it and raised up in it. There was a lot of development in Kilkenny, and things always being built. We were always being told stories that things were so much better these days.

I went to UCC and settled on an arts degree. I thought I’d try a range of different things before settling on one career path. That was the advice we were given: do the course you like; you’ll get better results. I found philosophy, and I knew that was what I wanted to pursue. A job at the end felt like a secondary issue: at the time unemployment wasn’t an issue.

I graduated in 2010 and then did a master’s in UCD, and finished that in 2011. Austerity had well and truly kicked in by then, so it was a very different final year in college than it was going in.

When I got out of college I came back to Kilkenny and started looking for work. I was directionless at the time. I would have really enjoyed lecturing in philosophy, but I wouldn’t have been able to fund a PhD.

Then I really learned that the society we were in didn’t value the skills you get from studying philosophy. They weren’t directly marketable, and everything you did had to please the market. If you couldn’t draw a line between your skills and profitability there wasn’t a place for you in society.

At that stage I started to realise I was looking at a seemingly endless circle of welfare-to-work programmes, like JobBridge. I signed on for two years. It was very disheartening.

I felt my generation had been lied to. I was told the deal was that if you got a good education you got a job. I did my part of the deal, but when I came of college the other part of the deal had changed.

Now I felt I was being told, “Here’s the list of people and skills we can use, and you if don’t fit into them, either get out of the country or prepare for poverty.” A lot of my friends emigrated. They went to England, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. For those of us who stay, you lose your friends as well as a view of the future.

 

After two years I got on a work-placement programme, which was €20 a week extra. I was helping small and medium companies apply for grants. I was there for a year. There was supposed to be a job at the end of it, but it didn’t happen. I’m still unemployed.

The work placements, internships, JobBridges are all completely open to exploitation. At first when I got in there it was a boost, but you’re just tossed aside again at the end and forgotten about.

I have applied for about 50 jobs since then. I had very few replies and no interviews. I’d do most things at this stage. It’s not bothering me as much any more that I can’t find work. I’ve lived without money for a while. I learned to survive without money.

If nothing else the experience of being unemployed teaches you something about how you have to formulate your values. Everybody these days asks what you do. I have to say I’m unemployed, but it doesn’t bother me as much as it did.

I think our generation is starting to change, because work has become so precarious, and you can be tossed aside from one internship to another. We have to create a new set of values that aren’t to do with how much a person is worth because of the job they do.

 

It’s about trying to change the narrative. It’s an opportunity, and it applies to us in this age group, the 20s, starting out in life.

The question “What do you do?” often means “What economic activities are you linked to?” I’d like to do away with the materialism aspect and the idea that employment can provide happiness through getting you the new status symbols and fashions, like in the Celtic Tiger.

There’s a bit of an opening here. The old values have died, but the new values haven’t really been created yet. We’re stuck between two worlds at the moment. We lack a space to create a new society and a new culture.

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