I have seen many debates about the DWP and their attitude to people seeking work. There are people I'd like to name, but my aim here is not to open up a political debate. I want to focus on my own experience with the DWP, which has been restrictive, frustrating and downright depressing.
It would appear that my job centre are only willing to get people into the jobs they're used to finding. Anything beyond that, they will not provide support with. At least, that is the message I have received over the past few months.
I'm a graduate, working towards the NCTJ Diploma in Journalism in my own time. I'm looking to work for a year or so while I get the diploma, then pursue a career in the media. The current job search is an issue in itself - employers are seeing that I have a degree and rejecting me. I'm currently too far away from London to consider applying for graduate roles there, but my problems began when I decided to apply for a role or two to see how I currently qualified.
The week after an unsuccessful interview, in which I'd received the feedback that I was qualified and passionate, but just wasn't the right fit for the particular role, I went to see my work coach. She asked how my job search was going, and I told her I was slightly disheartened as I hadn't been successful in a job interview. She responded by saying "Well I don't mean to be disrespectful but you need to toughen up, it's a tough world out there. Would I be correct in thinking you're lacking confidence?"
My response? Stunned silence. This woman barely knows me. She sees me for ten minutes once a week where she looks over my job search and I sign a form. She has no idea what my self confidence levels are like. More to the point, I do not need to be told to toughen up. I'm well aware it's a tough world out there, or I would not still be attending weekly sessions at the job centre.
The next suggestion was that I gain work experience in a local shop. I asked what I'd be doing, and she told me I wouldn't be on the tills, but I'd be stacking shelves for two weeks and talking to customers. I was told it would be good experience of the working world, and it would provide me with a good reference. I wasn't asked if I already have references - which I do. I was just told it was happening, and sent over to the woman who deals with the work experience.
When I got home, I logged a complaint online about being told to toughen up, stating that I felt it was an unnecessary comment. I got a call from the job centre an hour later. The woman on the line apologised if I had taken the comment personally, then told me that "most people in your position would have found a job by now, it's been 13 weeks", as if that justified what had been said. I realised that making a complaint was pointless.
I spoke to a friend about the work experience, and they were outraged. "How is stocking shelves for two weeks going to help you find the career you want?" they said. "And you already have references, I fail to see how an employer can give a solid reference based off two weeks of watching you stock shelves!" As the work experience is a voluntary scheme, it was decided that I should just tell them no when I next went in. In fact, if they were so keen on me getting work experience, why not ask the local papers for some, as my diploma requires I get some anyway?
So I went in and told them that if they wanted me to do work experience I'd be happy to have some support in getting a placement at the local paper. "Well, you'll be responsible for finding your own placement," I was told. Oh, OK. So they'll set up work experience if it's something they're used to doing, but if I choose to think outside the box, they won't offer any support? That just reminded me of a session where I was told to improve my universal jobmatch account with key skills, and I was given a sheet of paper with job titles. Customer assistant, carpenter, plumber, call centre operative...that's all well and good for some people, but not for what I'm looking for.
I was successful in obtaining two work placements at local papers, and went in the following week to tell them that. Before I could even tell them anything, I was told my interview with Boots was in two days' time. "I cancelled that last week," I said, and re-explained why I wasn't doing it. Seriously?
Everything after that seemed fine, until I got a call the next day. "I understand you want us to set up work experience for you?" the woman asked. "No... I was told you don't do that. I was told to give you the details so you could check it was all legit," I replied. Honestly, how incompetent do these people have to be?
"Unfortunately we can't let you do the work placement unless they'll offer you two weeks at a time, it's our guidelines," I was told. "But this is my diploma, it's my career, it's very important to me," I said, glossing over the fact they hadn't even told me I had to do a minimum of two weeks in one place. "Well, sorry, but that's the rule," she told me. So now I'm facing the paper being called by the job centre, asking them to take me on for longer, then if they won't let me do that, I can't do it.
No. That's not how this works. I do not cancel my work experience, I do not become unable to complete my diploma, I do not become unable to move forward in my career because the job centre would rather I did their "voluntary" scheme where they bully you into working in the placement they decide, not cancelling interviews when you tell them to, not giving you the information you need to set up something different then telling you that you can't make your own choices.
It's pretty clear that the job centre would be a lot happier if I fitted in with the other people my age currently attending. The people I had to attend a group information session with the other week. Who I sat in a circle with as we went around talking about what job we wanted to do. "Probably work in a shop...don't know...construction..." That's all well and good for them. That's what they want to do. But the narrow-minded, rigid attitude of the job centre is having a severe impact on me. I'm being told to "toughen up", bullied into doing placements I don't want to do, not being listened to when I say I want to cancel something and being told I can't do a placement I've set up because it doesn't fit with their rules. Well, I'm sorry, job centre, but I don't fit your rules. I'm not going to apologise for wanting to work in a career you haven't catered to before.
It truly is a sorry state of affairs when your only option, if you want to move forward with your graduate career, is to sign off jobseeker's allowance until you've done work experience, then sign back on again. Losing money because you're trying to pursue a career they don't seem willing to recognise. I mean, that's my option if they don't ring the paper and completely screw things up for me with them.
I thought DWP were meant to help people get back into work. I didn't realise that meant they had the right to dictate what career you get.