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William Griffiths: Academia is not enough. Students should do some dirty work

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It is clear to me that becoming successful as a young person in the UK, when times are hard, is not easy. But it’s easier than you think.

After number crunching the latest figures of youth unemployment in the UK, the results left me in no doubt as to what the problem really is: 740,000 people aged between 16 and 24 are deemed “economically inactive”, which quite frankly didn’t surprise me. We are living in an unprecedented era of technology, high population growth and a welfare system that is regarded an alternative career. I think the public and politicians are missing one vital factor in trying to improve the unemployment figures and stopping people becoming NEETs (Not in Employment, Education or Training): work (actual, physical work).

The problem I have with the term “economically inactive” is that it includes students. This in turn disguises the sorry fact that students do not participate in mainstream society. The result is that students in general to go to university after school with no experience of actually working in a basic, low salary job, which I think is a big mistake.

What I call the “all eggs into one basket approach” that has worked for students in the past in no longer viable. It is no longer an option to thrive academically and then go into a well-paid, successful career without experiencing life at the lower end of the social spectrum.

I started properly working when I was 16 in a local family butchers where I toiled through all of my school holidays until the end of my A levels, when I worked in a factory as a cell operator for a year before university. At the tender age of 16 I realised, through work, that I could achieve something within a relatively short time frame. It operated like a stairway, passing my GSCEs, passing my driving test (which I paid for myself), buying a car, passing my A levels and then getting into university.

Through all of this, I was doing a minimum wage job of some description and I still do now. For me, it’s all about attitude. Of course, I’m not saying that everything was easy and that work in general is a miracle cure for students relying heavily on loans and subsidies etc. But because I started working and saving at a young age, it has allowed me to fund my university education with no financial backing from my family. The logistical difficulties of this are obvious. You have to be prepared to work long hours during holidays; it’s tiring, hot, and time consuming, but slowly, it pays off.

Another obstacle to students and young people working is the amount you get paid. I believe that the minimum wage of £5.13 an hour, as a 20-year-old student, is an insult, but crucially, it hasn’t put me off trying and neither should it anyone else.

Through working in my holidays, I was able to save just over £7,000, which doesn’t seem a great deal in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a lot when you consider the hourly rate. Of course I’ve had to take out a student loan and I receive subsidies from the Welsh Assembly government because tuition fees (among others) are so high. My plan for the last two years of University isto keep working both manually and academically. My message is simple to young people and especially students like me: work, sort of…works.

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William Griffiths
William Griffiths is an International Politics graduate.

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