Young people leading the conversation on meaningful employment

by | Oct 1, 2020

Nobody really talks about the impending pool of joblessness that you are released into when graduating from university

Most of our adolescence is spent being told: “if you go to university, then you’ll get a good job”; especially if you have parents that are first or second generation migrants which for many attaining a degree from a British university symbolises a real chance at improving your life chances and getting into a career that is acclaimed – particularly when this certainly cannot be said of the colour of your skin, your accent or the council estate you grew up in.

No one tells you that in reality, “if you go to university, you’ll need to be financially secure enough to take on unpaid internships and despite working in retail part-time to support yourself, you’ll need to have some experience in the industry you want to work in and then you’ll get a good job.” Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, I suppose.

It was a big deal in my family for me to go to university and my parents did all they could to support me in that. I was fortunate to have exceeded the grade requirements I needed for the university I originally planned to go to, so at the last minute I adjusted and went to SOAS, University of London to study Philosophy.

I studied there for three years; an enriching experience I will never forget. Most of my tutors were great and many were good at provoking deep thought about the legacy left by cultural imperialism on our education system and subsequently our knowledge of the world.

With the proportion of international students being five times the global average, SOAS was a place where I met people from diverse walks of life, though it was also a place where the economic disparity between myself and them became unsettlingly clear.

My socio-economic background meant there was no financial support, nor could it open occupational doors for me. For many students like myself it is necessary to support yourself financially whilst also trying to keep the boat of your social and mental wellbeing afloat, not to mention keeping on top of university work so that your student debt has something to show for itself.

I juggled several jobs over the course of my degree which, though I’m grateful have equipped me with interpersonal skills and a sense of independence, this time meant that I couldn’t take on internships, or do work experience, or spend any time pursuing potential career routes.

I watched many a friend whose parents had highly-paid jobs go onto do internships that their parents had set up for them while others simply went travelling across the globe in search of their calling. But I couldn’t nurture my occupational development because I had to work.

The intersections of my identity as a young, black, working class woman meant that I had to work twice as hard and, despite successfully juggling those jobs and coming out with a first class degree, my employability in terms of gaining a career is low because I don’t have enough experience. And I don’t have enough experience because I don’t have the time, simply because I don’t have the money – which becomes this very damning cycle that thousands of others from similar socio-economic backgrounds are in.

Especially in this current pandemic, living in London it was becoming too difficult to even find work in hospitality or retail. Now I find myself in a small countryside town in the South-West of England where there is little chance of blossoming in my desired career. But at least I can afford the rent here.

“…attaining a degree from a British university symbolises a real chance at improving your life chances and getting into a career that is acclaimed – particularly when this certainly cannot be said of the colour of your skin, your accent or the council estate you grew up in.” – Rebecca