Posted on Sunday 25th October 2009 at 00:00
This blog has always been a mixture of diary and wider commentary, and such is the case with this post.

I moved to Plymouth a little over a month ago without any job to come to. I actually left a job in order to come here - one that I'd found without any effort at all on my part - and I rather assumed that despite the recession I'd have a pretty easy time of finding work. After all, why shouldn't I be able to just walk into a job? I have a degree in a part of the country where many people don't; I have work experience in several different industries and am above average when it comes to working a computer. I sat myself down in the sunshine outside Starbucks, logged onto the internet and started applying for any job that took my fancy.

A little over a month later, I am still unemployed, and have learnt a few things about job hunting and what the job market is like during a recession, when you're a very long way from London.

The first thing I've learnt is that there is no big business down here. None. Although Plymouth is the 15th biggest city in the country by population, it has achieved this feat in spite of the job market, not because of it. People do not come to Plymouth to work. They come here to retire, or to do a bit of shopping in they live somewhere more rural, but not to work, and definitely not to relocate their business. There are two reasons for this; two factors that shape the size, affluence, diversity and scope of the city. The first is the time it takes to get here from London, which on the train is usually around four hours. The second is the lack of other business centres in the area. Why are these factors important? I'll tell you.

The majority of cities in this country - indeed, the majority of regions - thrive because they are easily accessible from the capital. If you locate your business in Reading, Bristol, Cardiff or Birmingham you will often find that your customers are not living in your neighbourhood, and are most likely to be living in London. Not a problem, you say, I shall come to London to see you. So you hop in the car or onto the train and 2 hours later you are in the big city. Fine, no problem there. Your business can go on not being based in London and your customers may not even realise.

But supposing your city of choice isn't within two hours of London? Well, why not form your own micro economy? The likes of Manchester and Liverpool, which are a long way from London - or indeed Edinburgh, which is even further - get around this unfortunate handicap by turning themselves into business centres. They get together and help each other to become so big that if you set up your business there, you will be constantly surrounded by customers, and will never need to look - or travel - to the capital for your company to survive.

And that, my friends, is why Plymouth is an awful place to find work. Not only is it so far from London that even the specially timetabled "fast" trains to the city take a whopping three hours to get there, but there aren't even any other cities near by with which Plymouth can form a micro economy and attract business that way. After all, the nearest - dare one say, only - settlement of any notable size in the whole South West with which Plymouth could do business is Exeter, a full hour's travel away. And no, before you ask, I don't mean an hour in the Bristol to Bath on the bus 12 miles in rush hour sense, I mean the hour of driving along a dual carriageway at 70 sense. And because Devon has the hilly landscape that it has, even the high speed trains spend most of the time stuck at 60 or less, as they wind, snake like, round every peak and valley in the county. After Exeter, which itself isn't known for its massive, beating business heart, the next nearest city is, sadly, Bristol, and as mentioned above, that is too close to London for it to ever worry about doing trade with anyone else.

I think the lesson about the business situation really hit home for me when I got an email from my dad listing some PC repair companies to try talking to. When I phoned them up, each and every one told me that their only concern at the moment is staying afloat, never mind being so swamped with work that they must expand their workforce to cope. I mean, what sort of a city has so little business that even a computer repair man can't find work?!

The next lesson I learnt is that people don't give a toss about CVs. I started, as most would, by applying for jobs over the internet, using many of the countless job sites that have sprung up in recent years. The idea behind them is that you see a job being advertised and you apply for it, which sends your CV and cover letter straight to the employer and they get back to you to tell you if you have been selected for interview or not. Let me tell you this right now, so you can be in no doubt whatsoever:


First of all, no one who is actually in a position to decide to employ anyone has ever looked at these sites, or would ever consider using their services. Not one. The hundreds of thousands of job adverts posted on these sites have never ever been put their by the employers themselves. What happens is this:

The company in question decides to employ a recruitment agency to short list some candidates.

The recruitment agency, being keen to get their name out, post details of the job on hundreds of different job websites with a link for CVs to be emailed to them. Each advert shows the name of the recruitment agency, not the employer.

They then ignore the hundreds or thousands of CVs sent to them, whilst drawing up a list of candidates from the pool of workers they've interviewed face to face and know more about that a CV could ever say.

They give the list to the company who is hiring, never mentioning to anyone the thousands of CVs that weren't even checked.

And that is it. I don't even want to think about how many times I applied for dream jobs that would sort out all my problems only to never hear back from any of them.

The fact is there is only one way to get a job, even on a low salary, and that is to go and see people face to face. As crap as that is, and God knows I'd be the first to advocate getting a job without ever leaving the comfort of your computer chair if it worked, employers will never even look at your CV unless they already know who you are. And I have that on pretty good authority. After all, both my parents hire and fire. They both have the power to pull someone out of the dustbin of unemployment, shake the dust off them and give them a job. And both of them automatically delete any emails they receive containing a CV unless they have already met, or at least spoken to, the person sending it.

Gloomy as all this may sound, my hopes of finding a job - and so being spared from the awful clutches of bankruptcy - are higher now than at any point during this thoroughly depressing and stressful month. This week I went in person to two separate agencies, one temping, the other recruitment, and at both I was able to speak to someone about what I'm looking to do and they told me it is doable. I had been resigning myself to applying for part time work in Primark out of shear desperation, but they said I don't have to. There is real work out there, and they will help me find it.

At the same time, I've spoken to two separate people about gaining professional IT qualifications. I'll have to teach myself the knowledge and pay to become certified, but when I'm done, I shall have a fighting chance of getting through to those employers for whom a degree isn't enough.

The recession has been long and hard, and looks set to stay that way for many months and years to come, but if I keep making the effort and keep jumping through those hoops, than perhaps I won't have to keep being unemployed.

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