For nearly ten years I have worked on employment issues in international organizations or in education field. For five years I headed the Student Career Development Center at Tbilisi State University. This information is for those who know me as a translator. It is difficult to live on the money received from artistic translations. Most translators are busy doing a completely different job, 40 hours a week, waiting for holidays and weekends to work on the translation.
Economists, lawyers, psychologists, researchers on labour market development, labour force development, human rights, and gender issues are studying the issue of employment. I just wanted to share a few pieces of my experience and somehow say goodbye to the students I had worked with over the years who I couldn't say goodbye to when I left the job. I wanted to write about solidarity, empathy, or lack thereof; about the importance of being honest with young people too, but something didn't work out.
My generation didn’t know that for getting a job, education was necessary. We, the ones, who graduated schools in Soviet times, in the 90s were deprived of that slightest vague notion about professional self-realization, we had back then. And then things just went on its way; some were very lucky, while some were not. Some of them were smart. Some managed to survive, but some failed. Later on, we understood that graduating from university is not the ultimate goal; a good education must be the chance for a person to get a job.
True. We understood this, but we also know that the University cannot create or provide jobs; employment opportunities require a dynamic economy, successful, efficient policies, and transparent management focused on the development and prosperity of the country. Now we know that education and employment are firmly connected and interdependent, but what are the opportunities?
Universities are very proactive in attracting applicants. Both private and public institutions know that it is important to mention employment in advertisements and are eager to promise future students (or their parents) a variety of employment opportunities. What these promises are based on is another question. Or what are the criteria and scope of surveys on employment of graduates, what do universities mean by "employed", do they mean people working in their professional field? Many questions remain unanswered or require a better answer. The one thing what universities say and why, but more interesting is what the labour market promises to young people.
Over five years of experience, more than 80% of jobs offered by employers were from the lower tier of the service industry. Most of them were banks and various financial and credit organizations, insurance companies, large trade and distribution networks, as well as gambling business (the offer of which I personally never considered it right to pursue), tourism and services in general. Often, there were listed “desirable” faculties in offers, but in fact the requirements of certain jobs were hardly connected to any specific major. And when I was verifying job details via phone calls with the employers, often they were saying: “We need energetic, smart and pleasant person and we shall teach everything what he/she needs”. True. Considering the non-existent economy, “soft skills” are always more important, than “hard skills”; thus, social skills are more important and not the field/professional knowledge. We are moving on the same circle, we are in the same chain of the self-survival, where only the smarts, only the shining stars are able to survive, only the liveliest individuals. What about the others? Where should they look for a chance of realization? What kind of society do we want to be? The one that calls the modest person to shine for any price and offers numerous trainings (at a cost, of course) to teach how to shine or the one that uses the knowledge of the individuals and gives the chance to everyone? The society that tries to use the resource of each individual.
Good looks are lucky as well . . .
Due to the amendments to the Labour Code in recent years, we almost do not find any requirements about look, weight, height, age, gender. Almost. Though, these requirements have never disappeared they just were moved to “unwritten law”. Either in personal correspondence or phone calls, employers do not even hide to cover the requirements about the looks of young people. Every day routine of the Carrier Development Center was to “edit” the job announcements – removing of discriminative requirements and then argue with the employers about it. “Is requesting a photo discriminative?!” and one of them, after thoroughly describing the desired look, told me that the candidate must have the healthy teeth! I rejected the employer, saying that I would not place the announcement; the employer was furious, saying, how I dared I was teaching him/her staff requirements. I even send a letter to his company and to the prestigious business-organization, he was the vice-president of. Of course, nobody answered. It seems, they totally shared the spirit of the great HR strategist. I constantly was hearing: “You know, this is our HR policy”. As if the HR policy was something unreachable and untouchable monument. Have you seen the individuals, who blame their discriminative mode to the HR policy, they created themselves? It is hard to survive them. “We’ve never had problems with other universities!”, - they keep saying.
No matter where we look for a meaning, in the dictionary or with the International Labour Organization, the meaning is the same - an internship is used for a smooth transition from the educational sector to the labour market, for the practice of acquired knowledge and skills, for familiarizing ourselves with the working environment. Internship means the education-tailored experience and not any kind of labour experience. Most part (poor choice) of the “internships” offered to the students in Georgia is the source of income and by no means, it is related to the education, profession, and future experience of the student. I do confirm: working of the lawyer and philologist on the position of the supermarket consultant or Glovo/Wolt delivery couriers is not an internship for these individuals. Young people need income, but an offer needs precise naming, right? The goal of employers wishing to cooperate with universities should be the creation of professional, long-term opportunities for students, and not the pursuit of a low-paying workforce, right?
40 precious hours per week
"How many students have you employed?" - that was the most frequently asked question in the university. I answered that the Career Development Centre is not an employment agency, that it is responsible for helping to develop the skills needed for employment, to establish relationships with employers, to find suitable internship opportunities in accordance with their education. But people need numbers. You understand that you have other responsibilities, and you cannot convert those responsibilities into numbers. I don't care how many students I helped to become a courier for the Glovo, I want to know how many students I have provided skills that will last a lifetime: how many of them have learned to write a cover letter, prepare for interviews, how many of them I have advised to look for their jobs more effectively. But I can't consider these people "employed", can I? However, we need numbers, big numbers, because "other universities" are glowing with numbers. I even found it difficult to explain that hiring a full-time student (especially a BA student) was problematic. A student only works full-time, at the sacrifice of his/her academic hours. This phenomenon, if it is a mass phenomenon, clearly means poor quality of education. Studying is just for the purpose of obtaining a diploma. It is not a choice of students at all, it is typical for poor countries, only in poor countries students work full time (especially not in their field).
There are no candidates!
“There are no candidates!” in Georgian means “we cannot find the professionals (plus with good looks and smarts) that will work on extremely low salary”. There are candidates. But there is no salary. "What does a decent salary mean?" What does a word "decent" mean at all? ” - an employer once crawked on me. Nonetheless, exactly the employers know its meaning pretty well. I shall not bother you, International Labour Organization thoroughly explained the meaning and it was not afraid of the word “decent” at all. I shall name several indexes, namely: “adequate remuneration, decent work schedule, family, work and personal life balance, stability and security, equality and equal opportunity, social insurance, etc”. If anyone wants to dig deeper, you can refer to 267 p document. I shall be simple: decent remuneration is the one that you would advice even to your child and we shall not think that this remuneration is unimaginably small in comparison with the time and energy that might be needed for this job, in that very age, when the time and energy is mainly necessary for education and profession-related experience. True, “decent” is a thing that we think is decent and just for ourselves.
Starting from scratch
“I started from scratch and I succeeded”, “I worked for nothing for years and now, I own such a big company!”, “we are the ones who saw real hard times”. People say. I want to ask them: was it good to start from scratch? Was it good to work without remuneration? Were hard times good? I don’t advice you to listen to this kind of people. Not because they are lying. No, they really did start from scratch, they succeeded, and they survived hard times and worked without remuneration. It’s just about the thing that those who are sharing their experience in favor of young people are talking differently. It impossible not to feel, when the speaker is full of respect, support and solidarity toward you –thus, honest. Young people cannot stand talking-head exploiters. One cannot play to be honest. Everyone can feel it, both talented ones and less talented. When someone calls us to stand hardness, yes, we have to work hard, work like a donkey, but simply, we must be sure that our effort is truly the investment in our future skills and knowledge, serves our goals and not only the goals of employers. When someone is talking to us about our well-being, they must use our values for measuring the well-being and not theirs. One might agree to work not even on low wage, but for nothing at all (for a period of time), but it is important that such work must be useful for the candidate. The work useful only for one side is called exploitation.
Those young people shock me, the ones who survived everything, including low wage, discrimination, injustice, but as soon as they were promoted as an employer, they were converted to those that humiliated them recently; they were losing empathy and solidarity. I was wondering, whether it was the loss of memory or the wild instinct of self-defense? Or maybe it was the desire of revenge that turns the victim into violator? All these are in line of psychologists. I am just telling you, what I experienced.
I am the optimist
I don’t want anybody to think that I imagine the Georgian employers as monsters. A good business needs great effort, work and sacrifice. There are such businesses in Georgia and I believe in them. I believe in their social responsibility. I believe that they believe in youth. I believe in businesses that will not discharge the employees easily. They want kick them out if they express their claims. They try to listen to them and turn their employee into their supporter, ally. I believe in them whose stability stands not on others fears and subordination, but on others stability.
" I want to send her too."
The girls are sitting on the stairs of the 2nd Campus.
“Hey, do you remember the consultant job announcement?” I went there; I think they will take me.” “Salary?”
“Not much, but I want to have my money. I want to send money to my mother”.
The other girl laughs.
“Kidding?” “She is the one sending you the money.” Right?
Yes, she is, but I want to send her too.”
Yes. Candidates exist. If we cannot understand what fair attitude toward them is, we can use the following criterion: treat them as we want the other employers to treat our children.