IF Vox Pop: a recent graduate’s tale

IF Vox Pop is a series of pieces submitted to the Intergenerational Foundation by members of the public, expressing their take on the issues we raise. Here Brendan Hollowood tells of his struggles to get a foothold in the UK workforce that have forced him abroad.IF_Blog_Vox_Pop_Retro_Mic_logo_revised

Here is a brief overview of my life as a young graduate in Britain…

I graduated from Lancaster University with a 2:1 in Marketing in 2007 and then spent four years working in Marketing in Lancaster, Preston and Altrincham – doing seven different jobs over four years because Marketing is such a short-term, ruthless profession. In my experience, workers in their twenties get most of the blame and stress, and very little in the way financial rewards for their hard work. It is as if the older generation has climbed to the top and then kicked the ladder away.

Unequal struggle

I moved to France to become a gardener in September 2011 with my wife because we accepted that we just could not afford to buy a house in England even with my Marketing salary and her salary from a local supermarket. This is despite not being in debt or living the consumer lifestyle. It is impossible to save a deposit up and working life is far too uncertain. Every time we managed to save a few thousand pounds I would be made redundant or come to the end of a contract, and we would soon eat up the savings paying bills and rent.

In my own career I was frequently sickened to find the company directors earning up to six times more than me, all the while doing less work, claiming huge sums in expenses and generally making life a misery for the workers at the bottom. I don’t mind declaring that I was earning as little as £14,000 per year to work from 8:30 to 17:30 five days a week at a DVD label. Company directors earned upwards of £60,000 per year at a failing small business that was hugely in debt due to poor decision-making, nepotism and needless trips to foreign countries at great expense.

The most I was ever paid was £20,000 at Manchester Science Park where, after four years of work, I was finally rewarded with what I felt was a fair salary. After six months I was told that my contract (12 months) would not be renewed. This was told to me by my poor line manager, who had not been involved in the decision, on the same day the website I had project-managed went live.

Volunteer placements to nowhere

My wife has been unable to get any work in conservation/ecology or anything relevant to her environmental science degree because of the insistence of employers on paid experience.

Once she had graduated, with five volunteer placements under her belt, further volunteer work was impossible to obtain. The National Trust inexplicably refused her offers to work for free at National Trust Dunham Massey in Altrincham. One might assume she didn’t really try to find graduate work, but the heartbreaking truth is that she tried incredibly hard and got nowhere. She worked in a café and then a supermarket because unemployment benefit is a pittance, and council tax benefit/housing benefit is all-but impossible to obtain if one member of the household actually has a job.

More opportunities in France

So we chose to live in France, largely because I was not keen to face the Catch 22 of not being able to get paid gardening experience in the UK, yet needing it in order to find work.

In addition, as a gardener in Britain I would earn the minimum wage, which is barely enough to live on. In France the minimum wage of €9.43 an hour actually enables one to have a good standard of living while working 35 hours a week.

While the French system has its own problems with unfairness and corruption, it does seem more sensible and fair in many ways.