Let's talk about working for next to nothing, or even nothing at all...

It's 4.30 in the morning (and since Daylight Savings ended overnight, it's kind of actually 5.30am, which I'm not sure is better or worse), and I'm sitting here watching Party of Five from the start. As an aside, fashion wise, this 20 year old show doesn't really stand up to the passage of time.

Anyway, I'm not here to talk about Party of Five, though the whole 'wholesome family' thing is very cute - especially after spending the last few weeks watching Shameless. I'm here to talk about working for next to nothing, or even actually nothing.

Over the years I've heard the argument that the cost of childcare basically makes both parents working - or a sole parent working - not worth it. Let's think about that for a moment. Well, it is true that the Government doesn't do much to help most working families, unless you live on next to nothing - which is fair enough. People who live on next to nothing can't afford child care at all even with two parents working. But how about the families where a working parent or a working couple can afford childcare, but the cost of that child care negates the income from the job - they end up no better off financially? What, if anything, is the benefit of busting one's arse just to not get ahead financially at all?

I've been thinking about this a lot in recent weeks as I have been attending a pre-employment program. Having withdrawn from the PhD, all the excuses for looking for work - rather than waiting for someone to give me limited time tutoring, marking, or research work, have all evaporated. It is time for me to embrace the real world. I've done the pre-employment program because it has been a while since I applied for a job, a while since I've written a non-academic resume, and a cover letter. To be honest, I had no confidence in my ability to get work, and my work history was practically non-existent, or so I believed.

As it turns out, I've done a helluva lot of volunteer work, and even co-founded a not-for-profit incorporated organisation. And this counts for something.



This is where the working for next to nothing, or nothing at all actually starts to pay for itself. Here are the benefits of working, but not making any real money from it:

1. You have to have a job to get a job: If you're able to get a job in this day and age, it's a huge thing. There are 750 000 people looking for work, and 250 000 jobs advertised each month. You do the math. All the bullshit that comes from the Government via the media would suggest that if you don't have a job, it's your fault. You're lazy, or you're too picky. The reality is, on average, it takes a graduate five years from graduating to secure full time employment. There is an ever growing number of people in the workforce working part-time or casual. Underemployment is actually a greater problem that unemployment - so, that's saying something.

2. Even if you're not getting paid, you are more readily able to network: Working outside the home puts you in contact with people, more so than working at home. The workplace is fluid, people come and go, there are social events, and often training or personal development which allows you to meet new people - even if only the trainer or speaker. In some industries, there are also conferences and expos.

3. You keep your hand in: I can't think of a single job where there are never any changes or advancements in practice. Even cleaners have to learn about new equipment, new policies, new chemicals. If you work in any kind of office, you can bet your arse the technology will change within a six month period. If you're away for 2, 3, 4 years, or more, you are at a disadvantage when you finally do start looking for work again.

4. Your referees stay current: This is a big one. One of the greatest challenges I had while preparing to look for work was finding professional referees. No references, or old references just doesn't look good. Usually, character references don't count for much.

Voluntary work has all these benefits and more...

5. It show community commitment.

6. It allows you to work with a more diverse range of people, usually.

7. It helps to fill in gaps in the resume and shows a good work ethic.

8. It might help you discover new areas of interest.

9. It helps enhance skills in areas such as communication.

10. For people just graduating from a course but yet to gain paid employment, it can be a way to put your professional skills into practice, like work experience.

Getting 'out there' is worth it, even if it isn't financially profitable.

Think about it. Consider it. Do it.

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