What’s a placeholder job? a placeholder worker? Ah, you don’t know, dear reader, cos it’s a neologism I just made up. If this catches on, you never know, I might get a footnote in the OED. It would go something like this: “~holder job, n. a job where the incumbent makes little or no money after work expenses, esp. child related; ~holder worker, a worker in a placeholder job.” You can say you read it here first.
I was talking to a friend a while ago about looking for a job in the 1990s after being at home with my daughter for a couple of years. My CV before that showed that I had been a supervisor in the Victorian public service (with glowing references available) and then had left to be a professional musician (well, scratching a living, anyway) for a while. Perhaps that was what made me so unattractive to every employer I encountered. Then I had a couple of years as a stay-at-home mum. I found it very difficult to get back into work again.
“I felt like road kill,” I said.
“That’s a bit of an exaggeration, isn’t it?”
Well, yes, possibly. I did get to a lot of short lists and interviews. But before I finally cracked it for a proper job, I had to go back to the grinding humiliation of that scourge of the underemployed– telemarketing. There is a big difference, I think, between somebody with a professional degree – optometry, medicine, law, or whatever – and someone with an arts degree who has worked in “administration”, doing back office stuff. If you’re one of the latter, and your last gig was a few years ago, you’re going to find things very difficult.
Finally someone was willing to give me a try. And who was that? It was my previous employer (now morphed into a private company). Jeebus wept. I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but only someone I had actually worked for would take me on, despite a good track record in my last period of (office) employment.
Fast forward three years and I pop out kid no. 2, but this time I’ve finally cracked it for permanent employment – after a few short contracts, naturally—and even maternity leave. So I go off for a year with my baby and then—after a campaign besides which Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps looks like a picnic – I actually manage to get him into the childcare centre of my choice. Degree of difficulty: extreme. That’s a whole blog for another day.
It was already apparent before his first day that the child care fees would eat up the greater part of my salary. When you take into account the other things like train/bus fare, petrol, lunches and work clothes, a woman on a low-to-ordinary ordinary salary range isn’t making much on the deal. Maybe some women who aren’t working are just making an economically sensible decision not to work for nothing. So, why do people like me do it?
To summarise: if we take a year or three out of formal employment, we are forced to rejoin the workforce – if we can – doing work beneath the level of our training and experience, and it’s very demoralising.
This article addresses that problem– and it’s very welcome to me, because this nuts-and-bolts side of the equation isn’t talked about enough. (It’s just a wimmin’s issue, right? Just because it’s to do with the ability of a large section of the population to participate in the workforce, that doesn’t make it an economic issue, fer cryin out loud. And just because it’s to do with the lack of political will for governments to admit that the state has a role in fixing the problem doesn’t make it political. Back in your box, ladies!)
So, “Placeholder jobs”: A job held by a woman who is making little or no money after childcare and other work-related expenses are taken into account, who still elects to keep that job because otherwise she’d be de-skilled and have to go back several rungs on the ladder.
I’ve certainly been there. And the placeholding is beginning to pay off. But if I didn’t have a good job, with family friendly hours and a career path and all that, I might just decide to stick it. And I think that’s an important factor behind any so-called “opt-out revolution”.
Paul Norton of LP has more. Peter Costello, are you really listening?
(Note to pedants: I generated the graphic from hetemeel.com. The “dictionary” image form is a temperamental animal with its own ideas. You can type “noun” in the space provided till you’re blue in the face, but I ended up with “v”. there every time, so after a while I caved and published it as it was because I liked the idea. I do know the difference between a noun and a verb, and the fact that the rendition of a dictionary entry is not quite accurate. Really.)