Young Scots trapped in low paying jobs with poor prospects

A generation of educated young Scots is becoming trapped in a life of low- paid, unstable jobs that will damage both their prospects and wider society, a leading Scottish think tank reveals.

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Story Transcript

Hassan Ghani

Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city. Once a capital of industry and one of the world’s major trading seaports, its docks and shipyards provided a source of work and wealth. Today, much of that industry has moved on, and the city’s docks lie mostly empty.

For decades, parts of the city have struggled with unemployment. Governments in both London and Edinburgh have accepted there is a problem and saying they’re doing all they can to improve the situation. But recent research published by a think tank called the ‘Scotland Institute’ indicates things are actually getting worse for young people in Scotland, rather than better.

Dr Roger Cook – Research Director, The Scotland Institute

“What seems to be happening is that if you take the classic middle class entry into work – that’s becoming precarious. If you take the classic non-educational route into work – that’s becoming far more fractured.”

Hassan Ghani

Dr Roger Cook says his research shows that while youth unemployment in Scotland is near what it was two decades ago, with only a small rise, the nature of employment has changed drastically.

From working in stable, decent paid jobs in the 90s with expectations of progressing upwards, young people today are increasingly finding themselves trapped in part-time, insecure, poorly paid work with few opportunities for training.

Dr Roger Cook – Research Director, The Scotland Institute

“You can now come out of university with a degree and you’ll still get a job, and statistically it doesn’t look like you’re any more likely to become unemployed. But you’re entering a job that’s zero hours, part time, fixed term, you do the job and go away, no pension, no rights, no security.

So the employee bears all the costs, and the employer gains the benefits. And once you have an attitude that that’s a fair thing to do to human beings – if somebody has got learning disabilities, or physical disabilities, they just don’t register. Because you’re interested in the cheapest way to get labour, you’re not interested in people. The rates for ethnicity and disability are much the same – they’ve all gone up, which all indicates that those who’ve always been on the margins are now even more marginalised.

In Glasgow in particular, and Edinburgh as well, the thing that stands out is the geographical feature. You could almost list the post codes and you could quickly say yes that’s high or low.”

Hassan Ghani

Caitriona is a high school graduate. For the last few years she’s been working in a cafe, but has now set her sights on something better. She’s finding that competition for even entry-level low income jobs is fierce.

Caitriona MacKinnion, Jobseeker

“I’ve been sending, on and off, for the last month, maybe a dozen applications at a time, mostly through websites. For each job there will be at least a hundred applicants, and that can be really disheartening when you see that written out clearly like that.

All the jobs I’ve been looking at are entry-level jobs in an office, administration, environment. Most of them have said you need previous experience in an office environment. From where I’ve been working I’ve got a lot of transferable skills, but having never worked in an office environment before, I can’t with all honesty say I have that experience. But I don’t see how I can get the experience before getting the job there in the first place.”

Hassan Ghani

And with so many young people desperate for jobs knocking on their doors, employers can offer lower wages for more work.

Caitriona MacKinnion, Jobseeker

“I wouldn’t really know where to start to go about negotiating a salary. And where I am just now, I’d appreciate more the experience. The actual work experience is more valuable than the wages I’m going to get. As long as I can get minimum wage, then I’d be happy with that.”

Hassan Ghani

Sara has the benefit of a higher education. But it hasn’t helped much in getting on the career ladder. She’s been serving in a restaurant since graduating.

Sara Durden, Jobseeker

“I think if I had found a job in my field that would have been great, that would have been perfect, I would have taken that, I would have loved it, it would really have given me something to be quite happy about. It was quite hard coming out of university and just doing a minimum wage job, it made me feel quite useless. It wasn’t good, it was quite a hard time actually.”

Hassan Ghani

And that’s an experience shared by many of her peers

Sara Durden, Jobseeker

“Some of them went into teaching, some of them still haven’t managed to find permanent teaching jobs. A lot of my friends now are actually just working in bars, call centres, stuff like that because they can’t find anything for what they went to university for. There’s nothing for them.”

Hassan Ghani

Sanaa spent seven years studying law. Had she done so twenty years ago, she would have been well placed at the start of a lucrative career. But she too claims that today in several fields, even at professional level, jobs are sparse and nepotism has entered into the equation. She’s been working in retail in the meantime.

Sanaa Abbasi, Jobseeker

“It’s really difficult to even get a legal secretary job. That would be the easy route into it, getting a legal secretary job, then building up your contacts, building up your experience, then applying for trainee solicitor. But it’s not been easy at all.

I spoke to someone as well, asking for background, and they told me that for one application, for one vacancy, they’re getting on average 800 applications. I know of other people who have been in the same situation, their diploma’s lapsed and they’ve just got a retail job or a banking job now.

There’s a lot of people who have found traineeships, trainee solicitors who have contacts within the law profession and they found it much easier – if your dad’s a sheriff or your mum’s a legal secretary it helps you so much more to get into the profession.”

Hassan Ghani

Dr Cook says a combination of 20 years of labour market deregulation and a weakening of trade unions has led to the current situation. The adoption of zero hour contracts has also helped to drive a fall in the average number of hours worked by young scots, from 35 hours per week in 1992, to 29 hours today.

Dr Roger Cook – Research Director, The Scotland Institute

“The legal norms in the UK have seen a steady erosion of employment rights. It used to be a case of if you worked for somebody for six months you had the right to go to a tribunal if you were dismissed – that’s gone, it’s now two years. Hire and fire has become very easy.

I think the other strand is the loss of work place industrial power. For various reasons trade unions are much less important. Outside the public sector now, unionisation rates are very low. You’ve got people on very fragile contracts. To actually form a trade union would take a lot of work and a lot of courage. We’re back to the 1930s in that sense.”

Hassan Ghani

And the consequences are likely to be devastating, not just for young generations entering the labour market, but for society as a whole.

Dr Roger Cook – Research Director, The Scotland Institute

“Loosely, if you like, there’s a contract between you and your employer, and part of that contract is they pay your wage, you work hard, they offer you training, you improve your skills. Well, this system hasn’t got a contract. It’s a one-sided deal. You turn up, you get paid a minumum wage, you go away. Commitment to improving yourself? Zero, on both sides. And Scotland’s going to suffer for that, because we’re going to end up with more and more people slipping away from where we all believe the Scottish economy needs to go – which is hi-tech, modern. My fear is you’re going to see two totally different social systems opening up. One group trapped, and their children following them into that trap. And another group privileged, and because of the importance of house wealth as a generational transfer asset in the UK, increasingly privileged. And those two ain’t going to meet. And when you’ve got social systems going that way, you get crime. You get complete alienation. And you get complete misunderstanding, because neither can look at the other and think ‘that could be me’. And once you lose that common glue, society is fragmented.”

Hassan Ghani

Figures published earlier this month, show that one in five UK workers is now being paid less than the living wage. Dr Cook says both the Scottish and UK governments need to do more to turn things around.

Dr Roger Cook – Research Director, The Scotland Institute

“The Scottish government is a big procurer of private sector work. So don’t procure from firms that don’t pay the minimum wage. Don’t procure from firms don’t pay the living wage. Don’t procure from firms that use ‘zero hours’. Don’t procure from firms unless they’ve got well developed employment equity of access regulations.

If you actually improved wages in this area, those people wouldn’t go off and spend it somewhere else, they’d actually spend locally. You start to create a virtuous circle out of a whole load of vicious circles. And that leads on to the way in which poverty and geography entwine.

I think our big issue is the very neo-liberal assumption which is, crudely, that poverty is your own fault.”

Hassan Ghani

As for the three jobseekers: Sara has decided to emigrate to another country to try and improve her job prospects, and is now pursuing a career in conservation. Sanaa says she’ll keep trying to get work in a legal firm, but may have to start considering her options. And Catriona is still looking for work.

Caitriona MacKinnion, Jobseeker

“I’m not concerned about it at the moment. I’m still in my early 20s and I feel like I can still kind of stay relaxed about it. But, I do worry about myself and my friends – where are we going to be five or six years down the line, or even ten years. I couldn’t even begin to start thinking about getting a house or getting on the property ladder, or even taking holidays away somewhere. I can’t plan for the future like that. But I’m not too worried at the moment. We’ll see.”

Hassan Ghani

Hassan Ghani, for the Real News, Glasgow, Scotland.