Adventures at the job centre with Aunty Kemi.



My relationship with money at the moment is similar to Justin Bieber’s relationship with the black community- fragile. I’ve finally finished my degree to the relief of friends, family and probably God (who was clearly sick of me periodically whining every June about how my life was over because I only had 2 hours to learn everything about gallbladders because I had spent the rest of the year eating cake and watching youtube videos) At the end of 6 years of treating my student loan like rappers treat dollar bills, I am not broke. Financially, it has gone past that point – I am broken.

So, I decided to see if I could sign on, you know, get David Cameron to break me off me a little suttin’ suttin’ until I find a summer job. And so began my adventures at the job centre with Aunty Kemi.

Some people think that claiming benefits is easy – in fact I tend to sometimes be a bit scornful of people who seem to be perpetually receiving job seeker’s allowance, as if the pay checks of the general population are their personal piggy bank. After my experience at the job centre, I can’t think why anyone wouldn’t want to get a job as quickly as possible.

I arrived at the job centre on time for once. Actually, I was 5 minutes late, but in my world, that’s kinda on time. Nothing significant can really happen in 5 minutes except an earthquake or a mass shooting, otherwise, you ain’t missed much. Breathing heavily – (ok fine, I was late) I explained to the gentleman at the ‘welcome’ desk that I was there for a new claim. “Name?” he asked. “Shade”. I said. He scanned the list. “There’s no S here..”. “Sorry, my full name is Folashade” I replied. He beamed with excitement and then loudly switched into a Nigerian accent..” You mean FO-LA-SHA-DE!!!”. I smiled weakly. “Err..yeah that’s the one”.

I was sent upstairs and passed approximately 5 security  guards on the way up. (I’m not sure why the job centre needs so much security, you’d think they kept the money in a vault downstairs or something..). I plopped myself down in the sofa and waited. Three people who were supposedly employed by the job centre sat across from me at their desks, swivelling in their chairs and having a little gossip. “So I said to Tracy, it’s not on ya know….”. “Mmmmm.. I know what you mean”, replied a blond middle aged lady, “Not on..”.  This conversation continued for several minutes until I was approached by a 40ish year old back guy with a cockney accent ( I mention this because that always throws me off). We’ll call him Leroy. Leroy sauntered over to me, clearly unimpressed with the day, and with his colleagues – “Can I get some help over here?” he called to them. “Coming!!’ they replied, and then continued to gossip about poor Tracy.

After 5 minutes of filling out more forms, I was ushered over to another sofa to wait for my employment advisor to see me. As I sat opposite from her, I became a bit confused. She was sat at her computer, adorned with an elaborate headwrap and bored expression, peering over her snazzy Vision Express glasses at me.  She wasn’t typing or writing, she was just staring at me. Was she waiting for me to make the first move? Finally, after glancing at her nails a few times, she called me over. I soon found out that Aunty Kemi (names have been changed for privacy) was not there to be my friend. She was there to do her job, and rightfully so. She started by asking me a few questions about my current situation and then gave me a booklet to read. I read the booklet quickly and then signed at the bottom. She peered at me over her glasses. ” Have you read it?”. “Yes” I smiled. “No you haven’t”, she replied. “I’m going to ask you questions about it so make sure you read it. ALL of it”. I gulped.  “Ok.” She said. ” I will sign you up for the two week graduate and professional course..”. I explained that I only wanted a summer job because I have a graduate job after summer. She curled her lip..”It’s only  for two weeks though”. I explained again that I didn’t need a course on how to find a graduate job, I just wanted some work. She glanced at me and then picked up the phone. “Hello. Hellllooo. Yes, it’s Kemi here from ****** job centre, I have a client I want to sign up to the graduate and professional course…yes..can you do 16th of June?” she asked me. Shocked, I nodded. 

We the moved on to the next set of forms. “Do you have CV?” She asked. I nodded. “When do you usually search for jobs, morning or evening?” I shrugged – “Mmm morning I suppose”. “What time?” she snapped. “Sorry?” I replied.”What time?? 10? 11? I need specifics”. “Errrrr…11?”. She then copied up the rest of the information I had put on the form and turned the screen to show me what she had typed.

I had to control my laughter.

Where the form had asked for my skills, I had put: ” I have good communication and team work skills, and am committed to hard work”. That’s all.

Aunty Kemi had put:  “I have good customer service skills. I have good communication skills. I am very efficient. Team player, Ambitious, Punctual , Reliable and willingness to learn. Strong I.T. skills”

Where the form had asked for my circumstances I had put: “I have just graduated from uni and am currently living at home”.

Aunty Kemi had put: ” I am single and live with parent.(singular). I have accesses to internet thereby I could carry out my Job searches everyday in the morning around 11 am for 1 hours. I am a confident self motivated person. Good transport links. I have good knowledge of local employers. I am willing to consider any suitable vacancies offered to me.”.

I couldn’t object to that, and so we finished off by me writing down what I would do in the next few days. I wrote ‘I will upload my CV onto Universal Job match’.  Clearly, this wasn’t good enough. “When will you do this?” she asked, as her glasses slid down her nose. “This evening when I get home”. “But what time? I need specifics!!!” “Errmm….8?” I replied. Satisfied, she wiggled into her chair and gazed at me . “Ok. Next appointment is Wednesday at two. DON’T be late. And if anything changes about your circumstance, anything, even if you pick up someone from school and  they give you cash, you MUST let me know”. I nodded and swivelled away…

Claiming JSA isn’t the best experience in the world – it’s not torture by any means, but I can imagine it becoming very tedious. Fortunately, this is almost somewhat of a social experiment for me, but there are people who have been doing this every week for the past year or more. It must be demoralising. I for one, won’t be so quick to judge…

Anyone else had a funny experience at the job centre?




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