In 2016, I returned to the UK from Uganda having worked for two years for a Research Organisation and moved back in with my parents. In the first week, I went around the village looking for work and was fortunate enough to be offered work at a local coffee shop
Weeks before, working life involved research and advocacy on national democracy and regional peace and security, living the city life from a two-bedroom apartment. It was possible to afford a holiday!
Now, I was living with Mum and Dad applying for jobs and working as a Waitress, getting to grips with the difference between a flat white and a latte. This is not a point of hierarchy, but of working within reality to find, create, or embrace opportunity. Online competency tests failed, final stages of applications botched, and with this desire to do a Masters – January 2017 arrived and there wasn’t much, if any, work at the coffee shop.
An offer from the University of Aberdeen for a full tuition scholarship arrived in my inbox for an LLM in International Commercial Law with Arbitration. My assumption was that employability in the City was higher than in the Village. Once in the City, of the three employers that offered me work, two were paid minimum wage, cash in hand without a contract on the basis that I would be given more work if it was available.
The first job was working in a small coffee shop, as and when I was needed, waitressing. The only recruitment agency taking people on sent jobs that required a car and were for temporary contracts of barely part-time nature. The second job was working one night a week in a Restaurant/Bar as a Waitress where I was trained on the job during a weekly Saturday night shift.
Whilst undertaking these two jobs alongside study, I secured work as a Leisure Assistant on a zero-hour contract; a formal contract was provided, as was relevant training, and I earned minimum wage. The morning shifts started at 05:30 and the commute was a 45 minute uphill cycle to and 20 minute downhill cycle from work, or the bus [usually late, so I cycled] but it was the most secure employment option.
I was paid by bank transfer and signed a contract. Zero-hour contracts also provide holiday pay entitlements. Shifts were allocated on an ad hoc basis and because the team comprised of really nice people, we got on well and it wasn’t a problem getting regular work.
After being sent home two hours into a waitressing shift at the small coffee shop, I quit.
After having one shift a week on a Saturday without the emergence of more work at the Restaurant/Bar, I quit.
And I kept the Leisure Attendant job, cycling for early [05:30 – 14:00] or late [14:00 – 22:30] shifts where I worked until August 2017. I also got Employee of the Month for August 2017 because it was a great job, with a good team, paid training as a Pool Responder, with the perks of a free gym membership, a discount at Starbucks, and I enjoyed the job. There was also the chance to pick up extra hours doing marketing things, like running at events with a work t-shirt.
So, that was job number four of 2017. This was all work to make sure I could afford to finish the degree. Originally, I had planned to do it part time and forecasting finances meant that it was necessary to do it full-time to afford to graduate without borrowing even more money.
Anyway, personal commitments meant that I had to move to another side of the city which meant that the Leisure Attendant job would be an hour on a bus, assuming the bus left exactly on time. After applying for multiple jobs, I passed an online test and an interview to secure a 16 hour/week contract at a national supermarket as a Store Assistant, earning above the living wage.
I was guaranteed 16 hours a week, made up in shifts of anything from 2 to 8 hours between 05:00 - 22:00, Monday to Sunday, which meant getting paid a definite amount every month. Undertime gets added up and is taken later; overtime is paid at the same amount. The most secure employment of the entire year and options to do extra shifts, all a twenty-minute walk from work and a 10% staff discount on all purchases, with a bunch of awesome people.
So, this job set me up strongly enough to power through to finishing the LLM which meant getting another job.
Applying for jobs in Aberdeen got me nowhere, applying for jobs in Edinburgh got me through to final interviews where I was told I was liked although someone with more experience was always there. One I’ll never forget, is an ex-PWC accountant being offered a three-day a week job in an NGO. How do you compete with that? Stay in your lane, mate.
So, I started applying in London and of the 2 applications for jobs in London, both produced invitations for final interviews, resulting in one job offer on a permanent contract and instantaneous acceptance from my end.
If I learned anything this past couple of years, it’s that paid work isn’t a guarantee or an entitlement. The opportunity to make money? It’s a privilege.