Session 16

'Unpaid Britain': an interdisciplinary and empirical study on the labour market, critical employability and the student experience
Nick Clark, Research Assistant, Business School, Middlesex University London
Sophie Knowles, Programme Leader Journalism, Middlesex University London
Valeria Graziano, Research Fellow, Art and Design Institute, Middlesex University London
Dr Sophie Hope, Lecturer in Arts Management, Birkbeck University of London

This symposium draws from research from the Unpaid Britain Project to demonstrate ways research can be exploited fully and shared across departments – in this case, business, media and art – to benefit students fully and improve our curricula, the student experience, and our understanding of the term employability.  

Session summary:
While much emphasis has been placed on “employability” for students, there has been little recognition that, so far as work is concerned, students have multiple identities: they may be former, current and prospective workers, as well as (hopefully) active learners. Despite this often unrecognised experience of work, students are likely to be woefully ill-informed about even basic employment rights, including avoiding and responding to abusive employers, or pricing their labour appropriately. Meanwhile, it is becoming incumbent upon us as educators to ensure and demonstrate that students are prepared for the workforce and job-ready.

Current and timely research into various aspects of work and the UK labour market currently under way at Middlesex can be deployed in a variety of imaginative ways to both inform and stimulate learning, and to better prepare students for the employment relations they are likely to encounter. The Unpaid Britain project, jointly funded by MDX Business School and Trust for London, has identified sectors employing high proportions of students as among the most likely to abuse workers’ rights. The project’s research is also uncovering a wealth of material highly suitable for demonstrating to students the (sometimes unpalatable) realities of commercial practice.

Attendee feedback:
This session consisted of three interconnected presentations focused on employability and employment issues. 

First session talked about a two year project (2015 -17) funded jointly by Middlesex Business School and Trust for London which investigated the phenomenon of non-payment of wages, with particular focus on London workers’. The presenter, Nick Clark, talked about the reality many employees face nowadays with numbers of unpaid sick pay, holiday pay or maternity pay constantly rising. He then explained how this data impacts on students at Middlesex University, majority of which work, often in low paid jobs. Low paid, low skilled staff together with self-employed workers seem to be most affected. Therefore he stressed the importance of working with students to assist them in developing an assertive approach which may help to reduce their propensity to be super exploited.

Second presentation further explored employability related issues students face and ways in which staff can help them build and improve their employability skills. They referred to many useful resources available in recently published book: “Training for Exploitation? Politicising Employability and Reclaiming Education”, written by Precarious Workers Brigade, which they were part of. This workbook is a critical resource pack for educators teaching employability, ‘professional practice’ and work-based learning.

The free e-book is available here:

Third presentation delivered by Sophie Knowles, Programme Leader in Journalism, provided an insight into employability issues within the journalism area. Sophie focused on discussing how the profession is affected by changes within the society and external factors such as technology. She illustrated some statistics including the fact that the trust towards the journalists is all time low with even Wikipedia authors being more trusted than journalists. She also talked about the difficulty in linking the theory and practice while teaching journalism and what can be possibly done to improve it by providing examples from own practice. Sophie put a strong emphasis on the fact that current changes within journalism can be turned into opportunities and was open to start a working group of staff within the University that could further focus on improving employability across different disciplines.