It's young people, full of aspiration, ideas and imagination who find themselves forced to turn to extreme means to pay their way towards a future. “In an economic climate where there are very few jobs, where student support has been massively cut, people are taking more work in the informal economy,” says Estelle Hart, the NUS national women’s officer. In a state where a degree is marketed as ‘vital’, the pressure that surrounds the education system can be one that is difficult to look past.
As the school's focus turn to league tables and university placements, are we missing out on the creative potential of a generation? Laura Johnson, 27, a PR exec from Liverpool certainly seems to think so. But how is it possible amongst all this pressure to find a way round a scheme that is almost guaranteed to leave you with a crushing level of debt? Laura tells us her story in the last of our Wasted Youth series.
Dazed Digital: Can you tell me a little more about your situation? Was it easy to find employment?
Laura Johnson: I’m currently a PR and marketing executive for an integrated marketing agency. This is the second job I’ve had since moving to London and the first full-time permanent position I’ve ever held. I’m 27 years old, I should be on at least my third position in my career and yet I’m doing a job ideally aimed at a 23 year old. Since leaving university in 2005 I’ve been on job seekers allowance three times I think with the longest period being for about nine months. I’ve been incredibly lucky in that I’ve had a couple of administration jobs that my parent’s friends have managed to get me in to to keep me going.
DD: Where do you think the problems are in the system?
Laura Johnson: Young people are expected at the age of 16, 18, 21, whenever they leave education to go out and be adults. Nothing prepares them for that. There’s no support in that transition period and people just expect you to start work. No amount of paper rounds and Saturday jobs in Topshop can prepare you for what is effectively the big wide world.
DD: Do you feel like there's a catch 22 for the younger generation and employment?
Laura Johnson: There’s definitely a catch 22 situation. I was stuck in it for long enough. My parents had paid thousands of pounds for me to study PR for three years yet, when I left no one would give me a job in it. I was stuck in the ever so familiar cycle of no practical experience – no job. If no one was going to give me a job, how was I supposed to gain experience?
DD: Do you feel like there's opportunities available for young people to fulfil their aspirations?
Laura Johnson: Young people get the first 18 years of their life being told they can be whatever they want to be, they can do whatever they want to do, if they work hard they can achieve anything. So more often than not they do, they work hard and for what? To be told no one will give them a chance!
DD: What's your view on the market for minimum wage (or less) labour? Is it fair?
Laura Johnson: I’ve done minimum wage jobs and it’s awful but if you don’t have to support yourself, or god forbid, anyone else it’s passable as a starting point and it’s the route. I chose over unpaid internships, out of necessity rather than choice. You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place you know? What do you do?