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Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Voluntary contribution

You have all this spare time now you don't have a job. So why not volunteer and give something back to the community? 
So goes the received wisdom. Usually from those who have never volunteered. Often in the Government or Civil Service.

I've done voluntary work now for some years. It was called a job and involved working much longer than my contracted hours such that the effect on my salary was to halve it if you divided actual salary by hours worked. But I digress, I'm not talking about the goodwill factor that most organisations use to exploit their workforce, or the the implied 'if you don't do it then we'll find someone who will' chat that some managers indulge in,  I'm talking about good, honest doing it for free stuff, pro bono, because it makes a difference. That sort of stuff.

It's a good job that so many people are prepared to do this as our society would collapse if they didn't. Or, conversely, someone would have to pay for people to do it and reduce unemployment and not have amateurs doing professionals' jobs. I digress again.

Of course it's not easy doing doing voluntary work if you are unemployed, oh no it's not. First of all you have to convince the Guardians of the Job Seekers Allowance at the Job Centre (say this in a portentous voice and follow with roll of drums or dramatic orchestral score to get the true effect) that it will not affect your job search. In any way. They, the Guardians, have a whole list of proscribed voluntary jobs that you can't do or can't do much of. We'll avoid the weirder ones such a water divining, squirrel walking, porpoise training and manufacturing spectacles for parrots. You have to convince the G o t JSA (roll of drums) that first of all you are not getting paid. The words 'But it's voluntary isn't that a clue?' don't hold much truck here. Getting paid involves interrogation about 'expenses' - that concept so alien to the Guardians that you might give your time for free but the Volunteer-er, as it were, might actually contribute to your costs of travel or specialist equipment you may need to buy. Anyway one is clearly expected to search unceasingly for jobs 8 hours a day, 5 days a week or they want to know the reason why they should continue you to pay you £65 a week for lolly gagging around at home in a cold home scraping the ice from the monitor and unable to buy the bairns shoes to walk to the workhouse.

There are hundreds of opportunities to give your time up for free. But having said that is it just me that finds the idea of 'virtual volunteering' well, just a bit too modern (and that one really exists). I virtually volunteered to do the washing up the other night but Mrs EotP dragged me away from the computer saying 'That site is definitely not a jobs site or I'm a Dutchman.' Which she isn't or a even a volunteer Dutchman.

I convinced the Guardians that my preferred volunteering was acceptable, bodyguard for Laa Laa, Tinky Winky, Dipsy and Po and could legitimately 'work' during the day or night for free and still be considered a keen seeker after work. And so that's what I do to keep the boredom at bay when not actively seeking work which I am doing right now if any one from the Job Centre reads this. Hey I'd be delighted if anyone read this.

The problem with volunteering is the volunteers. You see there is a fundamental difference between volunteers and employees which we need to remember at all times.
Volunteers don't get paid.
That has come as a shock I know.
The whole problem with volunteering is predicated on this basic fact. You see, if you pay someone to do a job there's a reasonable expectation they will turn up at the correct time, do the job and leave at the agreed time. I say reasonable expectation - I've just finished working in the public sector for the last 18 months and shall we just say that it is a different country there. For another day.
There's also an expectation that they will do what you ask, undertake any necessary training when required and generally work as a collective team towards an overall objective.
Volunteers on the other hand tend to turn up when they like, go when they feel like it, do what they want during they the time they are there and disappear when it is convenient to them, and not tell you, despite the fact that the world might be kicking off at that very moment and their presence is vital. Words and phrases such as 'mandatory', 'must arrive at...', 'Must wear the official uniform according to policy', 'Don't touch that button that says DON'T TOUCH', 'Please leave any equipment you are not trained to use ALONE' 'You must know this information...', 'We agreed that you would commit to X hours a month' are routinely ignored. These words and phrases are, at best, treated like guidelines and, at worst, like instructions written in Cyrillic. Don't understand so don't apply to me. In fact not just ignored but regularly treated with puzzlement as if never seen or heard of such stuff before. All of them work in other organsiations so it's not as if we have just beamed them in from Planet Sector 9Alpha++ or anything. Something goes on in the brain that says 'Not paid therefore don't comply (much).'

And organising them, OMG. I look after 15 volunteers for something or other. Probably Dolphin Watch West Midlands. We have agreed that the preferred method of communication is email and that reasonable notice will be given when asking for support. We have also agreed that people will respond. Do they donner und blitzen, thunderbolt and lightning? Nope I spend a good proportion of my time herding kittens, well that would be easier I think, and trying to get responses. It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you post a comment on Facebook it gets answered in seconds but ask for a reply to an email within a week and you get the Sound of Silence. Don't misunderstand me, on the whole these are lovely, lovely people (in the main) who give generously of their time.

How far is the Government, or the country,  prepared to go with this volunteer philosophy? I don't want to go into my local library and ask a volunteer librarian for advice on books only to be told 'Mills and Boon are very good, bit racy though and do try Barbera Cartland saves on palpitations.' Or have volunteer surgeons 'Pass me that sharp thing Bob, what's it called, a scalpet I think.' Or have a volunteer anesthetist 'Got the extra air whatsit here, just let me look at the instruction manual and see where it goes. Oh it goes there does it, changed since I did the training in 1966.' I don't want volunteer pilots 'Hi my name is Captain Bob I trained on Chipmunks in the CCF and don't worry. I'm sure this Airbus A330 is just the same really.' Yes I know we have retained Firefighters (but they are paid), the Territorial Army (still paid) Special Constables (ah, not paid) and so on. And we are probably able to sleep far sounder in our beds knowing that volunteer part timers are out there at on the front line because there ain't enough money to pay professionals. Actually I think many of us would sleep much less soundly if we know just how thin the thin blue line is. Spider's web thin. My advice - don't ask.

The other thing you should know about volunteers is that they are not impartial. I was a Finance Governor for a local academic institution a number of years ago. I learnt very quickly that 'We need to expand the school to meet the growing needs of the community' really meant 'My little angel is in a class with more than 15 pupils and we need lots more teachers so that the teacher/pupil ration is 1:5.' Or 'The school should expand its external educational facilities' meant 'We need a herb garden so my little angel, who has just said this very morning she likes flowers and bees, can have her own publicly funded garden in school.' I'd be pointing out the legal requirement of Governors to make sensible, defensible budgetary decisions on behalf of the school and the best part of the pack would be out hunting for the best deal for their own little Amelia/Miles and the budget could go to hell in a handcart.

But it is a good way to pass the time if you can give it and a way of contributing to the community. And, if you fight the Guardians and find a worthy role to volunteer for then do so. Potential employees appear to have absolutely no interest in the fact that you have used your time wisely and for the good of the community but that's their problem. You have to decide whether to tell them anyway. Just remember though that if does kick off and you turn around looking for immediate support from the other volunteers - they may just have gone home.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Things that go bump in the day

This is now my 10th week of unemployment. My previous record, if that's the way to describe it and I don't think it is, was 12 weeks. I fear a new record is about to be established unless someone offers me a job PDQ. And, as there is no sign of that in the offing, it will now be the New Year at least until I find something permanent to do. It will no doubt all sort itself out in time. It's that word 'time' - troublesome that word, lacks a precision in definition.

Today I've been shopping at Tescos and, after having swopped a few words with the very pleasant but English language challenged Polish check-out lady, have not spoken to anyone since 8.30. It's now 2pm. I feel I ought to make a sound just to check my voice is still working. I find it quite strange to spend so much time in silence. I'd have made a rubbish monk. Well apart from not being able to obey any pledge of chastity I'd have failed miserably on the vow of silence as well. I don't consider myself a naturally gregarious person, needing to be surrounded by loads of people all the time, but it is good to have a chat with one or two people during the day. I reckon the Postie will get nervous soon if, as soon as she delivers the letters, I metaphorically pounce on her and try and pass the time of day.
And that reminds me.

As a student I used to have a summer job as a driver for Advance Laundry in South Wales. This was a great job. I loved it. I drove a specially converted white Transit van, 2.0 litre diesel engine mind you, with an automatic gearbox. Very much a constant speed, variable noise sort of affair with it's very own waterfall into the cab during heavy rain. I'd set off at 8am daily with the van loaded with wicker hampers of laundry for hotels and pubs, racks of clothes for the well heeled of Abergavenny, Pontypool, Brecon and so on. I'd drop the clean and laundered clothes off and collect the soiled ones for return to base. What a great way to pass the summer, driving around the glorious Welsh countryside.

I had the small town of Blaenavon on my route. Hilly it was in places. In fact so hilly that my Transit would not go up some roads - there would come a point where the engine would be revving, the automatic gearbox would be turning but the wheels wouldn't and the vehicle would be in stasis - going neither up nor down. There would always be a girl watching disdainfully. There I had two elderly gentlemen as customers who sent in two shirt collars each a fortnight to be laundered. And when I went to deliver them two weeks later both would pounce on me and try to chat about anything, anything at all, and try to get me to stop and have a drink of squash, ' Such a hot day you must be parched walking up that steep road?' I would, as an unsophisticated teenager, do my level best not to get bogged down in the conversation and leave as soon as I could without being rude - but of course I realise now, after all these years, that they were just very lonely and I was probably one of the few people that they saw during the week. Both lived up a very steep hill so it wasn't the sort of place you might casually stroll past. Crampons, pitons, oxygen and ropes were needed plus a Base camp. Their wives had died and they had no phones. How sad in retrospect that I couldn't, wouldn't chat for just a while. What little difference would have made to my day - 20 minutes later returning to base? What a difference it would have made to theirs.

The house is not quiet during the day. It creaks and groans and moves and whispers. All sorts of noises come from it. I don't mean the electrical hum of the freezer/fridge or so on, but the other noises. During the summer I don't think I hear them so much. The windows are open, you can hear the traffic, people walking past outside, music from the boys if they are around. In Winter the house is hermetically sealed behind three layers of glass, the traffic is muted to just a swish on the road. But the rest of the house lives. There's a lot of wood in the house and it's always on the move, shrinking with the cold and change in moisture and then altering again as the heating comes on. Sometimes it is a if some little thing is moving around in various places, like tiny footsteps or a change in air pressure. Not that I'm paranoid of course. No really I'm not, but the house y'know, is just noisy and sometimes I can't figure out just where that noise is coming from. And just what's making it. But I prefer the summer if I'm going to be unemployed (and it seems I am). I find winter a real constriction. The cold and poor weather keeping you in and around the house - I want to be outside but not when the rain is coming in horizontally with the temperature just above freezing. Having just read that I sound like some sort of psychotic Labrador.

I see that I contacts live on Skype - I'll have to see if my voice still works and give them a call. They couldn't even do that in Blaenavon.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

No sacks please I'm British

Well it's back to the future and I'm spending more time with the family.
Actually I'm not as Mrs EotP works (thank God), one is in school and the other at University.
This means that me and the house are rediscovering each other all over again. That took about a morning and I can reliably inform you that there are no priest holes (though there is an unexpected gap where John the builder accidentally broke through the wrong internal wall two years ago with a lump hammer and I learnt a new word), no hidden cellars connecting the houses on the street up in some long forgotten secret tunnel, no bat colonies in the eaves and no asylum seekers living in the garden shed. We did have a Polish 'neighbour' living in our then neighbour's garden shed for a quite some time a few years back but then they were, shall we say, bohemian in their outlook. Sadly missed too since they moved, as it is not often that you bump into Ben Kinglsey and Kenneth Brannagh at someone's summer barbecue. Or have your garden fence set alight when a bespoke New Year's rocket made by a 'friend' in a film studio SX department fires horizontally and not vertically. How we laughed. How we dived for cover. How we wished we'd had an Anderson shelter.

I'm at home for a good proportion of the working week again. And doesn't some crap come through the letter box? In an attempt to be a reasonably environmentally responsible person I try and do as much as I can on-line. Y'know bank statements, payments, email, begging letters for jobs, virtual driving so I don't have to use real petrol, that sort of thing. But still stuff comes winging through.

My pet hate at the moment is/are collection sacks for clothes for charities. I can't say I've noticed these in the past - perhaps the kids picked them up as they came home from school and said 'Oh look letters from Estate agents saying they are desparate for properties just like ours/free newspapers/junk mail//actual mail here on the mat as I come in. Let me just pick them up and place them in a handy and accessible place where my beloved parents can review them later at their leisure and not be trampled by everybody else's muddy shoes.'  You know I made that last bit up didn't you? Never, never have they done that - well of course. And, whilst I think of it, we have double the glass tumblers we actually need as the kids fill them with squash, partially drink them and them abandon them all over the house. I feel as if we should have them linked by a mechanism that requires a coin-in-slot to release them to encourage repatriation and not a game of parent hide and seek as we attempt to get them all back together.

These plastic sacks though. 'We are collecting for {insert Charity here} please fill with unwanted designer and famous branded clothes worn only once and leave on the doorstep and [Charity] will benefit with 0.000000001 % of the amount donated'. Ah, I see we are at home to Mr Sceptical today. This week, and it's only Tuesday, we've had two pushed through the door already. How many clothes do they think we have in this street? If I put something in each sack that came through, even if it was one sock each time, I'd be practically naked after 10 days and have run out of clothes. Look guys I'm a man and not interested in clothes that much, as Mrs EotP will endorse. If I can't order them on-line or chose within 1 minute of entering a shop then, frankly, I'm well passed my boredom threshold. What is the point of paying more than £10 for a pair of jeans? I mean Tesco sell them for £3 a pair and they last at least a week and fit where they touch. The instructions on the sack then tell you that 'they' are collecting on a certain day of the week and to leave them at the threshold of your drive just outside of  the armed response boundary (neighbourhood just a tad concerned about security round here and the butler can only run so far).

And then...the sacks just sit there. For days. There seem to be three states of being for these sacks.

State A. No sacks on the street whatsoever. Ever. Doesn't matter whether the sacks have pictures of air ambulances, puppies, kittens or cute kids on them, no one puts them out.

State B. Nothing ever happens to them and they get taken back in surreptitiously by the householder, the way people do when they realise they've put the bins out on the wrong day and were 'just putting them at the front to give them a bit of variation in their bin lives before putting them away again and of course I know what day the bins come I'm not senile you know.'

State C. A nondescript dirty, white, battered Transit van with two lads in it races up and down the road grabbing the sacks and flinging them into the back of the van. Whether these are the official collectors or savvy opportunists who, like seagulls following a ship for scraps,  just turn up on the appropriate day and grab the bounty before the official collectors arrive is not possible to say.

So into my recycling bin goes yet another unused plastic bag with a picture of a distressed horse on it. Could be a hamster but I didn't look too closely.
Or care at all.

Monday, 18 October 2010

94520 jobs added in the last 7 days

Right then.

94000 jobs. Added.
To what?
To Father Christmas's present list? Because all I can find is a sous chef post in Dundee.

And hallo blog. Back again and rather sooner than I'd hoped. Well, actually I'd hoped that I wouldn't need to be back at all but then there was the recession. There is the recession and, as far as I can tell, there will continue to be the recession. Look it's quite easy. I had a job, a job I liked very much and then the recession hit. They couldn't renew my contract and that was that but...three weeks later I got a fixed term contract that lasted for, well the fixed term. That was OK'ish, 60% eye wateringly less salary than I had been earning, but it was in the public sector and I thought, clearly naively as it happens, that I'd be able to find a full time position before the fixed term was up.

The Gods said 'Did you hear that, he said he'd be able to get a full time position?' and showed me the error of my ways. During that 15 month fixed term I applied for 27 jobs, had 3 interviews and, as you can deduce if anyone is reading this, no offers of employment. So here I am again 6 weeks into my umpty umpth period of unemployment and it's still the recession. And will continue to be the recession. It feels as if there is always a recession but is that just me?

Back in my favourite chair in the Job Centre I continue to sign on with quite a bit less condescension from the staff there than in the past. Gary, who 'served' me on my first signing this time round, commutes 120 miles a day to get to the Job Centre. He's a graphic designer in his mid 30's who couldn't get a job where he lives. Steve, who signed me on last Thursday, is a purchasing manager in his mid 50's who was unemployed for over 8 months before he got the part time job of inflicting pain from the other side of the counter. This still doesn't stop them making you go on the mandatory 'How to write a CV' and 'You really need to get a job now you know or things will get sticky for you have you seen our cattle prods?' hour long courses. Remember Pauline from 'League of Gentlemen'? Just like that. Like medical interns they've had to do it so now you've got to do it. This time they say, because they know 'Of course it's a complete waste of time.' Gee thanks, there's another hour of my life gone that I won't get back.

Because, sadly, I've been here before then I know the routine. Upload CVs to Monster, TotalJobs, TotalWasteofTime, WeignoreyourCVbutpostitmonlineanyway and so on. Scour Reed everyday for a position that pays more than minimum wage and doesn't involve being an IFA or self employed employment consultant (sound of snigger coming from EotP). Why so many IFAs? I thought we were all skint? I don't need advice on where to put my £65 Job Seekers' allowance thank you I just hand it over to Tesco. Scour every on line job resource until my eyes are red raw and my heart has sunk so low I'll need help from the Chilean miners' rescuers to recover it.

And then you get the email from some aggregator jobs site that proudly proclaim 94520 jobs added in the last week. As I ask right at the beginning just where are these jobs added? To the German economy perhaps? When I look at these proud posts I find jobs in Perth, or London or possibly Reading, but NOT where I live. Not even commutable from where I live.

I haven't yet reached the point of 'I'll do anything rather than sit in the house all day long' but it's not far off. But, and this is a good but, just whose going to employ me when they know that I'll leave as soon as a reasonable job elsewhere comes up - in about 8 years at this rate?

So back in the blog. Swept out the dust and leaves that had blown under the door, plumped up the cushions and assumed the position.

I'll be back.

Eyes on the Prize