17 February, 2012

The value of work experience

Melbourne Herald Sun, Friday February 17, 2012

When you see the nervous look in the client's eyes, you know he is going to ask you a favour. "Er - Ray - you know my daughter's 15 years old? She's very interested in marketing and advertising."

First time I'd heard that, I thought. Here it comes.

"Her school's having a work experience week - I don't suppose you can take her here?" Yes of course, you're friends with the client and keen to keep the business so how can you refuse. But - what on earth are we going to do with the girl?

It's a problem I'm sure has been faced by every business at some stage. The big ones can find a spot for the child in the dispatch room or let them sit with different departments over the week. For smaller firms it can be a bit of a burden.

The problem is, all too often the kid has no interest in the business and little understanding of what it does. The staff are too busy getting their jobs done to give them much attention, so our schoolie could spend much of the week keeping out of sight, playing with their iPhone.

There is a place for kids in the workplace. The evening job or holiday work can be very educational. I have seen McDonald's turn out some very hard-working, diligent students after a couple of years flipping burgers. But it can't happen in a week.

Unfortunately too many of our kids are growing up in families that, in my youth, would have been regarded as rich. Plenty of pocket money, mum and dad to taxi them around, lots of after-school activities, big presents at birthdays and Christmas.

It blunts the hunger we remember, of having to save for months to afford the second-hand camera you desperately want. (Insert your teenage desire here.) These days all they have to do is mention that a new 12-megapixel single lens reflex would be nice for Christmas and the distracted parents put it on their list.

Now it's time for "When I were a lad". In my teens, if you wanted a holiday you'd go work in a factory for a month to save up for the trip. Two of my summers were spent sweating next to the conveyor-belt ovens of a cake factory, spraying the cake tins with fat and coming home each night covered in a thick film of grease.

Another job was working in a holiday resort - as a bar porter stacking crates. While the world around you was having a ball, you were the poor peasant in the background carrying dripping empty beer bottles, shouted at by the supervisors, bar staff, everyone.

But it was a great education. I returned to my studies with fresh motivation - no way would I drop out and end up in a job like those.

In the past decade more thought has gone into the work experience field, with laws and forms, regulations and manuals to create more structure around it - and more bureaucracy of course.

Ideally, the school should have spent several weeks preparing the students for the experience, so they have some idea of what to expect - and to realise that they can't get away with insolent behaviour like they can at school.

The parents should be involved, with dinner, advice and sympathy each evening.

At your end, the company supervisors should sit down beforehand to discuss what would be the most useful lessons the child could gain.

Have a plan, have some tasks ready - but don't be shy about giving them some dirty jobs. It could be a valuable career-planning lesson for them.



Winston Marsh said...

Good one and I’ve put it up on my social media connections Ray!
Have a f-a-n-t-a-s-t-i-c day… Winno

Colin Pearce said...

Yep. Whole lot of good stuff, Ray.

Started out boning lamb and beef for the butcher to sell to the pie maker, cleaning fat and maggoty meat out of the band saw myself and slaved away all day Christmas week for 7/6.

My own kids made 12 dozen cakes for the cake shop every sat from 4:00 AM, worked for a concreter caulking joins in upright slabs 16 stories up, slaved away in shops on pittances and sold my books door to door to retailers who knew everything.

All fully employed now and useful with no tolerance for gits.
Cheers, Colin