4th Newsletter.
    Enhancing the Employability of
    Non-Traditional Students in Higher Education

  • EDI

  • Precarity: a brief introduction

    Precarity can take many forms and appear under different labels. It can be understood as lack of job security, economic uncertainty, unemployment, short-term employment contracts, social exclusion, reduction of social benefits, lack of job opportunities in line with professional qualifications, low salaries, and, as we are finding out through our research, an emotional and psychological way of being.
    This fourth newsletter of the EMPLOY project aims to reflect on this issue, identifying some features of precarity in the project member countries and, above all, giving voice to university students to show us the plural faces of precariousness in their everyday lives and in their educational itineraries.
    One important focus of the EMPLOY project concerns social and educational inequalities. Non-traditional students and graduates suffer from situations that significantly limit their access to university, completion of studies, and successful transition to the labour market.
    Precarity is a term that helps us to better identify the new types of inequalities that has its roots in neoliberalism in the last decades.
    The recent years of the economic crisis, which have affected, and still affect, most European countries, have increased the percentage of the population that is experiencing difficulties due to the loss of employment, the reduction of social benefits, and the worsening of salary and labour conditions of workers. Poverty has increased significantly, particularly in southern Europe. The working class and the middle class have both suffered a deterioration of their economic and social conditions. This panorama is increasingly affecting people and families with high levels of educational capital.
    Precariousness is, then, a social and economic condition. However, it also has psychological and emotional implications: deteriorating the health of the most vulnerable groups and creating a higher level of uncertainty and anxiety.
    We believe that a university education can and should help non-traditional students to improve their transition to the labour market, while, at the same time, contributing to creating resources to build shared initiatives that develop hope and a necessary sense of belonging and community.

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    European policies to fight precarity?
  • Precarity seems to be a problem that affects numerous countries in Europe, although the intensity of the problem varies significantly and seems related to unemployment dynamics in specific countries and regions. But are states and policy-makers part of the problem or part of the solution of precarity?
    Taking Spain and Portugal as examples, the urgency to tackle the problem of unemployment seems to have produced an increasing level of precarity as a by-product of these political measures. One example coming from these countries would be the state support for internships and placements offered to enterprises to promote young adults’ employment. However, since the state support covers most of the employers’ costs, enterprises and institutions often use this support to replace workers or to maintain a host of precarious workers with cheap salaries. This pattern seems also to apply, even if partially, to Poland. In 2016, changes were introduced into the Polish Labour Code, which reduced the option for fixed term agreements by putting a limit on their usage.
    Contracts that were ‘diversified’ and short-term were seen as instruments for increasing flexibility of employment and were meant to stimulate economic growth. However, employers tended to exploit them as a cheaper (considering employer's non-wage costs) replacement for open-ended contracts. As to Ireland – another country where precarity is a problem – there is no state-sponsored policy to resist or counteract moves towards precarity or casualization in employment; although there are some legislative measures which aim to establish the rights of temporary workers, And while much is made about falling unemployment rates, little is said about the quality and sustainability of the often-precarious work which fuels this decline.
    In conclusion, we can say that the main political worries in Europe do not include fighting precarity, despite the critiques that might come from unions or other societal sectors. Mainstream policies seem still to target flexibility that would probably produce even more precarity, increasingly accepted as “natural” or a lesser evil when seen opposite to unemployment.

  • 2
    The meanings of precarity for non-traditional students.
  • Most of the meanings and patterns on precarity are surprisingly similar when we consider Poland, Ireland, Portugal and Spain. Non-traditional students attending university often take up work to cover the costs of studying. Their work is often temporary, low-paid and requiring minimal qualifications. Accepting precarious jobs is therefore a necessary condition for students who hope their tertiary degree will provide the opportunity to escape the effects of such precarity.
    For non-traditional students, therefore, part of higher education’s role is to help facilitate a move towards an occupational existence that promises something more stable, and more meaningful, than previously experienced work. Getting off the path to precarity means not only economic stability but also self-dignity and social recognition.

    The main issue seems therefore simple to formulate: will non-traditional students ever be able to leave this path of precarity? Judging by European statistics, the majority of them will not succeed. The expectations of students and graduates from countries involved in the EMPLOY project are divided: whilst most of the non-traditional students and graduates
    have a pessimistic view (or a realistic one?) on their chances to escape precarity, some believe the working experience gained during the process places them in an advantageous labour market position. There is a third perspective, nevertheless: there are the ones who accepted precarity as a natural way of life and, with a surprisingly low level of anxiety, assume professional careers are simply evolving. That is, the future brings stability only for a handful, while the rest are more or less condemned to move from one uncertain professional situation to the next one. Can this be a general trend, at least for some parts of Europe?

    This does not mean that in countries such as England or Sweden precarity does not exist. Also in these countries, we have cases of workers experiencing the precarious nature of their professions and the emotional distress caused by seeking stability or a job that fits people’s qualifications. Precarity is a subjective experience and this emotional precarity seems real everywhere.
    For non-traditional students, then, it seems that precarity exists in their past, present and future lives as a contractual status to move away from and a, largely, undesirable occupational, social and emotional way of being.

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    Students voices on precarity

  • One day I think one thing and the next one I think another. On the one hand, I think that the economic crisis is going to leave such basic jobs that you are not going to get a salary suitable to live, we are going to get a salary just to survive, regardless of how prepared you are, you are not going to be even “mileurista”. I also see myself working abroad, or if I think that I will have to stay working at the Theme Park, I want to cry. The precariousness is going to affect us in the future. Now in the company where I am working for at the Theme Park, they have lowered our salary by 7% and the new workers are paid much less. How can they live?
    (Graduate in Journalism, Spain).

    I’ve always either worked shift work or if there’s any overtime going I put my hand up and go I’ll do it because I’m, I used to be a pleaser. If anything needs, oh I’ll do it, that’s no problem erm so I’m, that’s what, I’m looking to that type of lifestyle is that’s available. […] I want the job that I’m in until I’m 65 or 70 or whatever it’s going to be for retirement age. […] But I would like a pensionable job obviously.
    (Final year Social Science student, Ireland).

    When I finished my degree I continued to be a trainer in many areas (e.g. gender equality, interpersonal skills, team building, customer service, first aid) and I continue with the same customers (private companies). Now I’m also working as a digital marketing consulter in a German company because I did training on Boot Camp Digital Consulting, where I gained a set of skills to work in this area. I also work as a clinical psychologist. I have a lot of work but I’m an independent worker and I don’t have any kind of employment contract. In the months that I don’t have work, such as December and August, I don’t earn money. I’m living alone, I’m renting my house, but I don’t have professional stability. I need to save some money to be able to survive in the three or four months in which I don’t have work. I work for over than 10 years and although I pay for social security, I don’t have the right to receive a salary if I’m ill, nor to receive some kind of sick-leave subsidy.
    (Neurosciences Graduate, Portugal).

    … it just seems like ... and if I was able to socialise maybe I could build up social skills which might help me in an interview ... and that feels like one vicious cycle of loneliness and poverty ... well ... I wouldn’t say poverty as in having to eat […] more like I just suppose ... I suppose the term ... em ... precarious might be more ... more apt ... the precarious term that is being used nowadays for people in zero-hour contract and that kind of stuff…
    (Final year Science student, Ireland).

    …all the roofing companies I’ve ever worked for, you are designated as self-employed but you work for them permanently but you won’t get any holiday pay, no sick pay, no like, if it’s raining you won’t get paid, or if there’s no work they’ll just drop you. But you’re not self-employed because if you go off – they’ll supply you with regular work but if you go off to do two weeks for someone else, they’ll say well you can go and do that but there won’t be anything for you when you come back.
    (Social Studies Graduate, England).

    Studying doesn't guarantee success. Nowadays everyone's got a degree and, still, they have no job after graduation. We have this awareness of studying but it's not certain whether we will be able to work in our industry. (...) Everyone wants an employee who's young, has a degree and professional experience. This is sick - where are we supposed to get this experience if we get unemployed after graduation?
    (Education Graduate, Poland).

    … the disadvantage is that I'm older, I cannot use my parents’ network in the same way as younger students can, my mother has released her management positions she's talking to retire next year, her husband who ran his own consulting firm last few years, retired, and my dad is dead (yes) eh, however, I have the more friends of my own age with more specialised positions that you could use little later…
    (Graduate in Human Resources Management, Sweden).

    I would like to think that I will be employed… I have been unemployed for two years. If I am not employed I will continue my education, I have no other option. We are over-educated, we are the most trained and prepared generation. We attend English lessons since we are children; maybe we do not have a good level of English …. (Precariousness) does affect both now and in the future. There is a high percentage of unemployment and a lack of access to employment. When I get a job, my salary is going to be around €500 or 600, that's going to be the salary we'll earn in the future in any job.
    (Graduate in Law, Spain).

    After you finish Uni, the down… and then looking for a job because I’ve never not worked so this was the first time that I had a period of not working, that was scary so I was trying to sit and apply for jobs and getting rejection after rejection after rejection.
    (Social Studies Graduate, England).

    I’m still working as a freelancer in Graphic Design. I have strengthened old clients’ loyalty and won some new. Last summer I worked for 4 months in a completely different area. I worked as a waiter in a restaurant in Vale do Lobo. Inevitably, I have to compare this period with my last work as the official designer in MOTELx (Lisbon International Horror Film Festival). And I can see huge differences. I worked in MOTELx for 3 months, without an employment contract and low wage. They (MOTELx) wanted to pay me €550, but I managed to earn €650 for 40 hours per week. However, I worked much more, during weekends and many times for all night long. But, this was when I finished my degree, and it could be good for my curriculum and all those things that we know. In the restaurant, working as waiter, I had an employment contract, with a higher wage and extra tips that represented an additional wage. I had better conditions working as a waiter without a degree than as a designer with 3 years of university training.
    (Communication Design Graduate, Portugal).

    …yes I have these strategies what I want to and I still do think that I am employable (je) but we will see how it turns out (je) depending what response I get, but I figure an internship place might do, if I might perused an employer to take me on (je) on the basis on what I would be actually doing or anything eh (ja, it is like that) ja I will see what’s is good I will see x now I am starting the internship course with the PAO programme that starts in eh Spring, so I have my (eh) application…
    (Graduate in Human Resources Management, Sweden).

    It's not like you graduate and then a stage in your life is completed. After that you find a job and you keep this job forever. And it's the next stage for you. Today to be part of the marketplace means continuous development. It's the chase that matters - you need to do your chasing to keep yourself afloat in the market.
    (Graduate in Journalism, Poland).

  • © 2017 EMPLOY