Thursday, 13 August 2009

An open letter to Boris Johnson

The following is written by Jamie Sport (pictured with Boris above) of the Daily Quail blog

Dear Mr. Johnson,

I hope you think it reasonable that I am making this an open letter. I originally raised my objection to your promotion of poorly paid graduate jobs via Twitter in reply to your own tweet encouraging the jobless youth of the Twitterverse to visit www.london.gov.uk/graduates.

I wanted to discuss the issue of poor opportunities for London graduates using the open forum afforded by London’s favourite social networking tool because your answers would be of value to a great many others, not just myself.

However, having received no reply two days later, I pointed out that the @MayorOfLondon account was, sadly, quite inept at replying to London twitterers wishing to correspond with their elected representative online.

A quick glance through your Twitter stream revealed that it had been three weeks since you last replied to anybody, and that particular tweet actually appeared to be little more than an opportunity to plug news of another City Hall initiative. This seems like quite an oversight to me, and reveals a disappointing unwillingness to engage in an open dialogue with voters – especially given recent news that London is the top Twitter-using city in the world.


The chance to converse with hundreds of thousands of Londoners is passing you by because of your preference (as you told me in a direct message) for direct messages rather than public replies. Does this not undermine one of the most fundamental principles of using Twitter in the first place, that conversations are conducted in public, thereby allowing dialogues that might otherwise be limited to two people to instead be shared with many others? Why set up an @MayorOfLondon account if exchanges are only to take place in private? It would be simpler to send letters.

Corporate Twitter accounts (or those of high-profile individuals such as yourself) can be used to great effect if conducted correctly, permitting quick and easy engagement with the many people to whom you provide a service, fostering a closer bond than usually possible with conventional media, and, ultimately, helping an organisation connect with, and respond to, actual people without the need for a third party. Used incorrectly, Twitter becomes redundant; one-way, old media principles flailing around in a sad attempt to appear modern, closed to the very avenues of communication that have made the service such a success.

What initially compelled me to seek your comment was the ‘Helping graduates into work’ section of your website, which you promoted to your 44,000 followers on the 10th of August. Having graduated last year and struggled to find a job for several months, I know how difficult it is for those who have recently left university to find work, especially faced with the inordinate living costs of our capital.

Upon entering my degree into your job search page I was presented with 10 of perhaps the most inappropriate results I’ve come across on any job site: according to London.gov.uk, the first-class degree in English Literature that cost me in excess of £18k to attain would bestow the privilege of being a ‘Sales or retail assistant’, bringing in around £13,666 pa, working in a ‘Customer care occupation’ for £15,666, or as an ‘Educational [?] Assistant at £15,818.

At the top of the pay scale is ‘Secondary Teachers’ on £25k, but your site neglects to mention a BA would not, in fact, be enough to enter this role as an additional post-grad qualification would also be required. Similarly, I doubt many recent graduates would have any chance of stepping straight into an ‘Editor’ position, as listed on your site.

To suggest that £14k jobs in retail are acceptable for London graduates is faintly offensive. I remember being paid £2,000 more than that in a retail position I held for 2 years before I went to university, and that was nearly six years ago. £14k would barely be enough to live on in London, after income and council tax, rent, and travel expenses (it cost me a little under £200 per month just to get to work in zone 1 from my flat in zone 6) . Equally, it suggests that a degree is virtually useless: Byron’s musings on crossing the Hellespont are pretty superfluous if you can only end up stacking shelves in Tesco.

I, and I imagine many others, would consider £20k about right as a starting point for graduate jobs in the capital. That rules out all but three of the results given on your website – of those, two are woefully unrealistic. That leaves ‘Journalist’ the only viable option for English Lit graduates in London.

All of which leads me to ask why you are promoting such useless career information? This sort of advice is discouraging at best for anyone wanting to find a decent graduate job, and surely puts a great many people off thinking they could ever hope to remain in London once their degree is completed. Do you personally approve of such advice being given to a group of people that, surely, you should be doing everything you can to keep? If so, how (and where) do you propose one might live comfortably for £13,666 in London?

Presumably there are no jobs currently available within City Hall, or they would be listed on the website? Or is the job section simply paying lip service to giving graduates opportunities? Why, instead of disseminating information on how to live in urban poverty, aren’t you promoting fairly paid, respectable, achievable careers for graduates? Why not call on employers to provide an adequate wage for those who have taken the time and spent the money on gaining a degree?

I can’t help but think how valuable your input and support could be in really helping graduates find gainful employment if you were willing to engage with them, and with organisations that value intelligent and responsible young people who wish to enter employment but are unfortunately faced with a great many barriers in doing so.

I look forward to hearing from you (and feel free to contact me on Twitter).

Yours sincerely,

Jamie Sport


Of course if the @MayorOfLondon would like to reply to Jamie here on the blog, then I'd be more than happy to add it to the post.

Your humble servant,

Adam

12 comments:

Sarah said...

My degree broke the search engine, but then it is a very old one.

The grad jobs available looked very similar to the jobs that were available when I graduated in the days of the student grant

Einy said...

I think you are being unreasonable, he is in charge of the whole of London, on paper he should not have time for Twitter buy he obviously makes time somwhere out if his busy schedule. Having Twitter is not compulsary, name 1 other politician who has one and reply in DM? Yes, no one. I think it's better to reply by direct message because it is more personal and you are addressing Boris so why would you want the world to see. He wants to interact with his Londoners and get their questions answered on s less formal medium. As much as I know, he runs his Twitter and answers the DMs. He is taking a hugs risk of being mis quoted but still continues. If you look at Boris previous tweets they are greatly different, this is probably due to the media attention his Twitter was getting. I think you should stop complaining and appreiciate him!

Thanks for reading,
Einy @EinyS

John B said...

So we're in the middle of the Worst Recession Evah. If a graduate asked me for job advice right now, I'd tell them to apply for 'classic' grad jobs and also Tesco: gbp14k is better than nothing, and when things do pick up they'll look more impressive with a year of Tesco on your CV than a year of Trisha [*].

I'm also not sure about this bit:

£14k would barely be enough to live on in London, after income and council tax, rent, and travel expenses

So who do you expect to work in Tesco? People who don't deserve to live on decent money because they haven't read about the Hellespont?

[*] obviously, they'd look more impressive still with a year of meeja internships, but that's another class-privilege argument for another day...

Jamie Sport said...

he should not have time for Twitter

If he doesn't have the time for it, or doesn't actually run his Twitter account himself, he shouldn't have a Mayor of London Twitter account purporting to be his at all. I think that's fairly obvious.

why would you want the world to see?

For the reasons stated in the letter. Let me reiterate for you: Twitter is there so public figures like Boris can speak to a wide variety of people, opening dialogue up to those who might not otherwise have the chance to be part of the debate. It provides an excellent opportunity for open discourse that is otherwise absent, but, unfortunately, the Mayor hasn't realised this.

I do not wish to hold private conversations with Boris. If you want to talk to him personally Einy, you are free to do so (or at least try) via email or post.

I think you misunderstand what Twitter is for, and how valuable it could prove for someone like Boris (or any political figure) to engage with Londoners. Many MPs use it brilliantly as a tool for communicating with their constituents as part of wider, public discussions.

Mark Lee said...

Just to echo Einy. This is the whole problem with politicians blogging and using Twitter, Facebook et al. People get angry if they do not get a response or 1:1 interaction, despite the fact that many people would probably recognise that it's a little infeasible.

Do we expect our politicans to be spending their time on their Bebo, Twitter, Facebook, Blogspot accounts, or out there doing *real work*?

Would people rather the mayor deleted his Twitter account (because he cannot reply to every single @ message), rather than the current approach where at least he is providing some updates? Would we rather the Assembly employed an army of people to manage Web 2.0 interaction?

Also... I don't want to come across as being harsh to Jamie, as I know how frustrating and difficult it is to find work as a graduate, with several of my friends being in the same position, but what exactly does he want the Mayor to do? Yes, the jobs website is a bit of a joke, but does he want the mayor to wave a magic wand and create more jobs with better pay?

Sure, they can maybe put in more effort when compiling the listings, to hunt down the better paying grad jobs and list them, but that's about it. And, to be honest, if I was looking for a well-paid job, I wouldn't want it to be advertised to all and sundry on the mayor's website, with my application buried under 300 others.

The jobs market in London is dire at the moment - and with demand outstripping supply, of course pay suffers. But has Jamie considered looking outside of London? As the jobs market here is so dire, maybe venture outside the M25? Admittedly, upping sticks and moving away from your friends and family is never good, but I know people who have moved to Bristol, Oxford, France & Spain for a year or two precisely for this reason; they've been able to find work more easily, living more affordably, and plan to return to London, with solid work experience under their belt, when things begin to pick up.

Jamie Sport said...

People get angry if they do not get a response or 1:1 interaction

...which is precisely what I wasn't asking for, but, as it turns out, received. A Twitter/whatever manned by a press officer (or the Mayor himself) lessens the need for time-consuming 1:1 interaction by allowing crowd conversations. A far more efficient way for politicians to communicate is by speaking publically, not hiding exchanges behind closed doors. Many political figures do this. Boris does not, and yet he does have time to write a column for the Telegraph every week. Thus, I don't really buy into the 'but he doesn't have time to engage with voters' argument.

they can maybe put in more effort when compiling the listings, to hunt down the better paying grad jobs and list them, but that's about it

Yes. That.

And, for the record (as mentioned in the letter), I'm not complaining that I can't get a job in the city. I was lucky enough to find a job in Central London 3 months after graduating (shortly before recession seriously set in). My issue is with the promotion of non-jobs and entirely useless advice being doled out on the Mayor's website to young people struggling to make ends meet.

I agree that a good alternative is to move to Bristol, Oxford, France or Spain, but, surely, London authorities should be investing time in making sure this is precisely not what happens. It's in their interests to keep graduates in London.

Einy said...

Boris uses his Twitter for news purposees or to promote particular schemes such as Cycle Fridays. He wants Londoners, who are interested to be 'in the know' and not left in the dark. There is no set defintion of what people use Twitter for, it's mini blogging so by all means someone could use it to update the situation or to post the news, what ever. That's the beauty of the Internet, you can do what ever you like. If the issue is so important that you demand a reply from Boris then you should use another medium and not something so trivial as Twitter. I do not wish to hold private conversations with him right now, I have done just recently on severel occasions and I am sure he prefered it to that rather than a minimalist 140 charecter conversation. Although I am not aware of a lot of MPs on Twitter, it would be on a different scale than to Boris. They are looking after their assigned parts of the country whilst Boris is looking after one of the largest cities in the world.

Anonymous said...

In many fields, a year of watching Trisha is a better option than doing a shit job. Why? Lets say you work in the creative industry. Suddenly there are no jobs available for you. Lots of graduates available to do that job at a pittance and other people have more formal skills to put on paper. When work actually picks up, if you've now got a year of Tesco on your CV, you now look like you were not good enough to compete with the others. However, a year unemployed where you use that tme to improve your current skills and develop new ones is a much better option, as long as you can bear the miserly JSA.

If the government were serious about getting the country back tyo work and out of a recession, it would offer all unemployed people a year's paid training in the field of the unemployed person's choosing. Will never happen, because the usual arseholes will poo and moan about tax. Bah!

John B said...

And, for the record (as mentioned in the letter), I'm not complaining that I can't get a job in the city. I was lucky enough to find a job in Central London 3 months after graduating (shortly before recession seriously set in).

If that's aimed at me, I didn't think you were.

My issue is with the promotion of non-jobs and entirely useless advice being doled out on the Mayor's website to young people struggling to make ends meet.

But it's not a non-job, or useless advice.

When work actually picks up, if you've now got a year of Tesco on your CV, you now look like you were not good enough to compete with the others. However, a year unemployed where you use that tme to improve your current skills and develop new ones is a much better option, as long as you can bear the miserly JSA.

Just, no. Unless you actually do an MA / diploma, etc.

Sure, they can maybe put in more effort when compiling the listings, to hunt down the better paying grad jobs and list them, but that's about it

But do you have any evidence they're not doing that? Do you think there are a huge number of decent £20k publishing jobs going that could easily be put down on the MoL website and aren't currently being put there? Based on my work in the London media industry, these jobs just don't exist, and where they are created they're awarded to former interns rather than advertised.

Jamie Sport said...

It wasn't aimed at you, John, but the commenter who suggested I 'look outside the M25'.

I guess the definition of 'non-job' in this case is subject to personal opinion. I regard 'generic retail assistant position' as a non-job for someone who's made an effort to attain a degree and wants to find work related to their interests.

Evidence that they're not doing it? Yeah. Take a look at any number of other graduate job boards and compare the listings with the MoL site. The Mayor's office is in a position to be a lot more comprehensive and useful than other employment resources, but instead it churns out useless stuff that won't help anyone.

Charley said...

To suggest that £14k jobs in retail are acceptable for London graduates is faintly offensive. I remember being paid £2,000 more than that in a retail position I held for 2 years before I went to university, and that was nearly six years ago.

Well whoopy doo for you. There are loads of people who would be more than happy to earn that kind of money – with or without an English literature degree. You need to climb down off your high horse and say hello to the real world.

Did you even check where the data on that site comes from? If not I suggest you do: http://www.london.gov.uk/graduates/AboutInfo.aspx

It comes from a survey of Uni of London grads - 6 months after they graduate they’re surveyed and the responses are based on what grads actually ended up doing after graduation i.e. it’s what is actually going on in the real world, not the cosy little bubble that you live in where every grad deserves a well paid job just because they spent 3 years at uni.

If he doesn't have the time for it, or doesn't actually run his Twitter account himself, he shouldn't have a Mayor of London Twitter account purporting to be his at all. I think that's fairly obvious.

Since when did you write the rule book on how someone should use Twitter?

In fact, I’m kind of astounded that you are ranting like this … he replied to you and you’re ranting about it. Funny actually.

Oh, and I've just noticed that comments on this blog have to be approved by the author - that's not really in the spirit of open dialogue that you're slating Boris for now is it?

AdamB said...

Comment moderation is on because I'm away on holiday (see post above) and this letter is written by the author of another blog (also see above)

Try reading Charley.

Anyway thanks for the letter Jamie. I thought it raised some interesting points and has provoked some considered responses (Charley aside).