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I've studied for years, so why does JobBridge advertise for the positions I should be filling?

Putting skilled graduates into underpaid positions does not address unemployment and leaves aspiring graduates feeling undervalued, writes Christian Korpos.

Christian Korpos

RECENTLY I SAT down with one of my friends, another psychology graduate, to trawl through potential job opportunities. We were left disheartened when, after completing an undergraduate and a postgraduate degree, we once again saw a job offering us the weekly dole and fifty euro a week through JobBridge.

A few weeks ago the HSE defended it’s decision to use JobBridge to advertise a 30 hour a week Assistant Psychologist position. While this gained some media traction and fuelled debate we know it’s not an isolated case. This is the reality that many aspiring Assistant Psychologists, including myself face today.

I love psychology and this is reflected on my curriculum vitae. I’ve worked as a Research Assistant, volunteered in a school and worked with people who have reduced mobility. I’ve also had a few conference publications, co-founded the DCU Psych Soc, and was Secretary of the 36th Annual Congress of Psychology Students in Ireland and for the Student Affairs Group of the Psychological Society of Ireland.

My sense of pride diminishes 

I’m proud of what I’ve achieved, but this sense of pride generally diminishes when I sit down to apply to a job in the field to face one closed door after another.

I’ve applied to Assistant Psychology positions in the past, with the application process generally coming to a swift halt before the interview stage, when I’m told that I don’t have a completed Master degree or in some cases more than a Master’s degree, as well as research experience through academic publications and conference presentations; or relevant Assistant Psychologist experience. I feel like I’m in a Catch 22 situation, where I effectively need a Assistant Psychologist position to get into an Assistant Psychologist position.

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I’m not alone. I know Assistant Psychologist’s who have worked on a voluntary basis to build up experience for months and in some cases years, while facing constant rejection and generally having to support themselves on the side.

While a competitive recruitment process is typical and relevant experience is important, if I were to apply for the position advertised a few weeks ago I would then be faced with the greater challenges and constrictions associated with JobBridge.

My job search 

The advert discouraged and angered me and so many others. Through JobBridge, aspiring Assistant Psychologists effectively get paid lower than minimum wage. The scheme was created to address unemployment and deliver valuable work experience for those needing a real opportunity to get back to work, but in cases like this it is fuelling an unsustainable position for the psychology sector, where finding a job is already incredibly competitive.

This scheme is also closed to a large proportion of students who are employed and looking to move jobs. To avail of this governmental scheme you must be in receipt of a live claim (such as Jobseekers Allowance/Benefit etc) and have been in receipt of such a claim for at least three months or more in the last six months.

Therefore, if you are currently employed, like myself, or have been employed in the last six months you cannot qualify.

If I were to qualify, the Job Seeker’s (JB) Allowance and Benefit would cumulatively be the most common form of social welfare allowances availed of. Let’s assume for a moment that I qualified for the maximum amount under the means-test or that I qualified for the JB Benefit. I would still be paid less than the minimum wage of €8.65.

JOB SEEKERS TABLE Source: Weekly Jobseeker’s Allowance and Benefit payment in 2015 taken from Citizens Information.

The scheme would allow me to also work up to 20 hours on the side. With the ever increase in the cost of living in Ireland, such as rent, it would mean that I would need to take on a 50 hour week to reasonably support myself.

According to a recent study by Daft.ie rental price in Dublin range between €365 to €507 a month for a single bed. Given the above stated around what is expected to receive from JobBridge this seems like an unfeasible situation to find a place in Dublin where rental areas have increased between 9% to 19.3%.

Under-staffing in mental health 

While the JobBridge system is being exploited and must be fixed, this case also reminds us of a fundamental and overarching issue here – that mental health services in Ireland are severely underfunded. The Mental Health Reform has launched its ‘Invest in my Mental Health’ campaign, setting out how an extra €35 million is needed, highlighting the scale of underfunding.

On one hand we have too many aspiring psychologists and fierce competition when it comes to looking for a job. On the other hand, we are seeing many clinical psychologists within the HSE with a waiting list of up to six months.

Psychology positions within the HSE are subject to restrictive recruitment practices that cripple any prospect of addressing this any time soon. As Mental Health Reform said in their pre-budget submission, staffing in May of this year was still 22% below recommended levels and services are struggling to cope with staff shortages.

In 2014 the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) and the PSI Early Graduate Group published a policy document aimed at improving conditions for Assistant Psychologists, which is a good first step.

HSE needs to step up 

Minister Kathleen Lynch said that she will be fighting for the increased budget in mental health services, admitting there are still recruitment issues in the mental health services area. The problem has been identified and we now need the government, through the HSE to step up and provide more funding in training new psychologists and providing new opportunities for students.

This should be matched with a fair wage. Recently, the Living Wage forum said the living wage in Ireland is €11.50 an hour and Minister Ged Nash proclaimed that “people who work for a living should be paid a decent wage”.

JobBridge, in it’s current form, its completely contradictory to that statement, as many skilled Assistant Psychologist post don’t even get a minimum wage. Putting skilled graduates into underpaid positions does not address unemployment and leaves aspiring graduates feeling undervalued, with many simply changing careers to support themselves.

Let’s reform mental health services in Ireland for good and make change possible.

Christian Korpos is currently studying a Master’s Degree by Research within the field of Cognitive Psychology in DCU and works during the summers to support his studies.

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