The Third Way

If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing well.

A subject common to peoples' conversations, newspapers and mad rantings at present is that of unemployment. In particular youth unemployment, and student unemployment. We're sending record numbers of people to higher education institutes yet it seems that far too many students come out with a piece of paper, a hangover and no prospects. At the same time there's constant wrangling over benefits, what people who are unemployed should be given, who's scamming the system, unpaid work experience and on and on and on. Add to that the frothing masses shouting about how foreigners are coming over here and taking "our" jobs and you have quite a melting pot.

For that reason it would be facetious of me to suggest I suddenly have an answer, but there are a few points that seem to get missed in many discussions and it would be nice if they were brought up more often. We were having exactly one of the conversations described above in the pub the other night (where else) and decided that the two most often traded quips about the jobs/unemployment situation were:

  • People won't do jobs that seem beneath them; everyone is too picky, demanding that they get their dream job without necessarily having experience or anything else one usually associates with employability.
  • Employers are increasingly skeptical about who they hire; degrees or other qualifications are no longer worthwhile, they need to see experience, extra-curicular involvement, a willingness to work over time without increased pay and more.

Combine these two factors and you'll see a big rift between those who want to work and those who want to employ.

The solutions to these problems are also fairly simple to see; in the first case people looking for jobs need to accept that they can't get their ideal career straight away, they need to take a lower paid or less interesting job and work their way up. For employers, they need to accept that they may have to take on staff who want more free time, or who have to learn on the job.

In the same way that these solutions are obvious they are also less than ideal. Whilst according to employers you're not beneath a certain job, that doesn't make it easier to do a job you hate day in day out; there seems an inherent unfairness, especially if you've worked for qualifications, in having to accept a lower standard of working life. At the same time many companies just can't afford the risk of hiring someone who hasn't already proven themselves; even if you acknowledge the hit on time that comes from on-the-job training you could end up with someone who really can't do the job, and a difficult case on your hands if you want to let them go.

So if these problems exist and their obvious solutions don't really make things any better what else can we do? The first way is one of unemployment, stunted growth and growing distrust; the second way is one of lowering standards, taking risks and relying on precarious mutual disadvantage.

For the third way we have to turn back to that old saying up there. Old sayings can be clichés, but the reason they've survived is that they still hold true. This is as valid for a job you're employing someone to do as a job you're doing yourself. Therefore any job that requires an employee is worth doing well; it follows then that there should be no bad jobs. No jobs that require people to lower their standards, or that require an employer to take on someone who could be a liability. If employers want a job done right then they need to make the value of that job inherent to it, such that it's clear to those taking it on; and if the job is worth doing then this shouldn't be a problem. Similarly when a worker gets a job their first task, before arranging their transport or buying a new shirt, should be to comit themselves to the value that has been placed on that job.

One of the examples that brought this idea to the fore (and let's face it, making jobs not be crap is hardly original) was hearing people in a call centre talk about their work. They were cold calling on behalf of a company to carry out surveys about media consumption - TV channels watched, papers read etc. But the way they had to do it was to call someone, ask if they'd take part and then basically read out a long list of options waiting for a yes or no answer. That isn't valuable human work, that's a machine's job. At the same time when we call one of these centres ourselves we have to spend 5 minutes slowly navigating a painful menu system or mash star to try and speak to someone - that's a job that could be done far quicker with a human on the line. For that human answering & redirecting calls would surely be far more enjoyable, and seem to have greater importance, than reciting a list of 10 obscure local papers for 8 hours.

If neither an employer nor their employee can see the value in a job then should that job even exist? This solution still leans on the employer more than the employee, but as the employer should have more to gain from placing the job this seems fair. Work is necessary for the modern world to continue functioning, but that necessity needs to be communicated to both sides of the employment market; without this, we'll be left with unemployment, risk and dissatisfaction; with it we'll grow an economy of happy motivated workers, whatever the work happens to be.

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