The work experience program has come under pressure over the last week or so from a range of sources. All have tended to have a leftward leaning and tend towards the argument that everyone should get a fair days pay for a fair days work. In essence this is a virtuous comment and correct, but to use it in relation to work experience is to miss the point of the exercise at best and to mislead at its worst.
We seem to have allowed the financial crises to give many on the left of politics the excuse they have been looking for, to allow them to blame big bad business for every ill they or we have. That is not only dangerous but erroneous. We should not and cannot expect big or small business to simply exist as charitable bodies, they work for profit and at present work for break even just to keep going and keep their staff in jobs. We must ensure we do remember that it is business big and small that keeps our economy moving and that can drive our economy forward and onto greater heights. To do that businesses must be valued and supported not attacked at every opportunity by those who do not understand it and still hanker for nationalised industry across our country.
Workfare is a good case in point. The criticism of organisations like Tesco last week were totally out of kilter with reality. Firstly, why should a private company tasked with making profits for its shareholders (many of who are pension holders and other members of the public) simply create a few thousand extra jobs it does not need? The argument over Tesco should be paying its work experience work fair people a proper wage is to assume that if Tesco did not take part in this scheme it would employ people anyway, it would not. These are extra roles Tesco is creating and it is at a cost to companies. They have to supply training, support, staff to monitor the work fair people and all of that does cost money. So there is an investment by them.
It also beggars believe that the one example that has been picked out is Tesco, where their last CEO actually did start on the shop floor. It also assumes that no media companies take on unpaid trainers, interns or work experience people not on full pay who are trying to get in to the industry. What about Charities who are always advertising for unpaid work experience or interns to work for them (and I do not mean volunteer sin the front line, I mean the adverts for Charity HQ interns on Work for an MP web sites that can be found every day).
I support the work fair program, it is good and it is giving a chance to people who want it and need it. It could be viewed as a stick. If we have people who are simply in the view of the job centre team not trying to find work, then why not require them to do some work experience or community work? They are getting benefits which are effectively a form of wage from the tax payer so why should the tax payer, like any other employer, not get a return on that money by way of output, voluntary work?
On the carrot side, which is the vitally important part, for those who do want to get back into the work place this is going to provide vital skills. Fill a CV gap and also re build self esteem and experience of getting up each day and having a purpose to fill and getting that first start on the ladder.
For too long too many of us have felt we could just jump into our perfect job and if not the benefit system will cover us. That time has to end and we need to be prepared to work towards what we want and that means starting somewhere. Work fair gives people that opportunity to start somewhere and we should be thanking the businesses that are supporting it and doing thief part to help a new generation of people get back to work and to regain the skill set of being in work.