Is the Government right to make people do enforced voluntary work in exchange for benefits?

The Government now proposes to make the long-term unemployed take up manual work placements in exchange for their benefits.

Most people visiting this site will have been in a good job until recently, and won’t be in the long-term jobless category the Government say they want to target. The Government’s aim (they say) is to get people used to doing proper work, every day for a significant period, so they feel a sense of what it is like to be working and are more likely to succeed in a job when they get one.

So, how does this apply to me?

No matter what kind of job you did before, and on what level, it is almost always better to be able to tell a prospective new employer you were doing something of real value during your time out of work. Most employers are smart enough to know that job hunting is rarely a 9-5 task. Someone who has been motivated enough to do something that contributes to society will be a much more attractive prospect than someone who just read books or did DIY or gardening during their time out of work, especially if they’ve sought out voluntary work that is unusual, topical, or from which they’ve learned new skills.

So, yes, on balance, doing voluntary work is always a good thing, provided it’s something that adds to your CV in a meaningful way. You can find more about volunteering at: Do-it and Volunteering England. Some Jobcentres also have details of local volunteering opportunities.

So, volunteering is the answer?

If we’re being entirely frank, even if you’re volunteering, being unemployed for a long period is simply not attractive to potential employers. Yes, everybody knows times are tough and jobs are scarce. This is especially true for school leavers and men over 50, the two groups for whom finding a job are known to be hardest.

But, whether we did anything to cause our own unemployment or not, we still carry the taint of the jobless while we are out of work. Recent media headlines and the pronouncements of Governments of all colours on the subject make it increasingly difficult to put a positive spin on long-term joblessness.

So, what’s the answer?

A short period of unemployment can probably be written off – after all, many professionals have employment contracts which preclude their joining competitors for a period after leaving. But a period of more than three months out of work will quickly devalue even the best CV.

This is why, even if it means taking a job that is far below our ability level, being in a job is almost always better than either being unemployed or even being a volunteer. It also works from a simple financial point of view. Many people who were previously in a good job will find themselves ineligible for means-tested benefits because they have savings or investments of one kind or another that tip them over the £16,000 level. Not many people can survive for long on £65 a week Jobseekers Allowance. In any case, under new benefit rules taking effect (likely in 2012), even this benefit will be reduced, or possibly removed altogether, once we’ve claimed it for a year.

Will my career be affected by taking a lower level job?

Almost certainly, but there can be as many positives as there are negatives.

Of course, there is nothing to prevent you continuing to job-search at that level, and there are myriad ways to present an interim job creatively (and truthfully) on a CV to help you do so. If you are determined to get back to the dizzy heights you left, and you are really that good at what you do, you will likely climb the ladder again when the opportunity arises.

Spending time doing a lower level job or a job one step removed from your specialism presents learning opportunities. Many of us forget when we move into management what it is like to do a job further down the totem pole. It does us no harm to revisit that skill level every now and then, like an extended (and more wholehearted) version of walking the floor. It makes us better managers.

Some people find the experience leads to new opportunities. It’s unusual today to only have one career, and many former execs blend several opportunities into a looser, more creative and enjoyable ‘portfolio career’, like the former CEO who became a part-time chairman for six small businesses.

However hard you work at your job search, it may be that things don’t return to their pre-recession situation. Instead, you may find that they lead to a different life, but, given that you still have all of the skills, talent, motivation and experience you’ve built up in your working life, it needn’t be one that is any less rich.

November 12th, 2010 | Category: benefits, between jobs, career change, temporary, Uncategorized, volunteer | No Comments »

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