At 19, I had left school a couple years ago and gave the prospect of university no serious thought. For me, the only sensible option that I felt was open was a trade or traineeship of some sort.
In the end, I selected a retail traineeship with a large company, which promised managerial certification to those who excelled in this initial year of training.
I had done well enough. However, I remember the day my involvement in this traineeship ended.
The course overseer came into the store I worked in and asked me to complete a 250 word essay and I would have the level 2 certificate in my hot little hand. Anyone familiar with NewAnthro knows how easily I can put together as many words (in fact I’m half way there now), but yet I refused to.
The store kept me on, however, yet part-time and I turned back to schooling and went to uni instead…
Why didn’t I complete it, you may ask? It would have looked good on the CV of a young bloke such as myself, if nothing more.
I just couldn’t do it.
The life of a retail trainee
In this role, my wage was pathetic – lower than any part time worker of 16 filling a weekend position around school. One other trainee who was actually 16 scrapped in just shy of $5 per hour. The two of us both worked more than 50hrs a week each to make ends-meet. Worst of all, we were largely fodder for the jobs no-one else wanted. The store manager even had the other trainee wash his car in working hours! At $5 per hour, he was getting a good deal – especially as it was the company paying for it.
There’s just over 250 words and my reason for rejecting any accreditation on offer. We were told our wages were docked to pay for our training. Yet it was easy to see, from the amount of trainees going through and the frustrations that many shared with me, that the company was making a killing on cheap labour.
The reason I bring this up is that I’ve only recently become aware of the cogs behind the Coalition’s “Green Army”. Their method brings back memories of more than a decade ago.
Troops without cause
This Green Army is to be made up of trainees and volunteers. The incentive for the workers is apparently the reward of doing a good job (and maybe some piece of paper for their efforts). For the government, the incentive is clearly getting a crappy job done on the cheap.
School leavers and work-for-the-dole candidates are to make up this team.
I have been a school leaver, I have worked a traineeship and I am environmentally motivated. But how would I fair day after day, regardless of wind, rain or harsh sun, digging up weeds, planting seedlings and collecting rubbish in a short term role akin to community service?
Working in environmental research today, I do a lot of field work, from soil sampling to establishing new research facilities. It is often hard work, but I get my respite when I return to the office with data to manage and validate.
There will be none of this for the Green Army and unlikely to be much job prospects following the short term position as what they were trained to do will be done cheaply by new recruits after them.
I simply cannot see how this initiative will attract ongoing voluntary effort from young people when the prospects of the first few groups to finish prove to be little better than their own. Why would a young adult run around in the rain or heat in a high-vis vest for 6 months to obtain marginally better job prospects?
Sure, not all people in my position would have turned down the little report as I did – a certificate is better than none – but who is really benefiting from this initiative?
When it changed so as employers could not dock the wages of trainees in my position, I saw the initiative quickly reduce in size. This tells me that the company was not doing it to obtain a high quality body of staff, but rather cheap fodder.
The “voluntary” in the Green Army rings alarm bells, at least to me. The Coalition are betting on a great uncertainty for the basis of their environmental package – one that seems to be based on exploiting cheap labour options.
I doubt the Green Army will be washing many cars, however I wonder if they would ever be to meet and maintain their desired troop numbers. If not, it is nothing but another failed act just waiting to happen.