During the week I have been to the launch of Norwich for Jobs and read through the government’s discussion paper on traineeships. A phrase that keeps coming up – and has frankly confused me – is “high quality work experience”. It sounds like someone having experience with the Royal Ballet as prima ballerina and completely skipping the corps de ballet salt mines. It would give one a very warped view of what working there might be like.
And young people need to understand that every job matters – each job matters so much that someone is being paid to do it.
One of my first jobs was doing cover for the tea lady in an office in Holborn. Two rounds of every office a day where you were expected to remember what everyone drank including sugar quantities. Turned out I was a poor substitute for Elsie, who effectively was the 1980’s in-house Twitter feed and Facebook embodied in turquoise nylon overalls.
By starting out with easy tasks like distributing post or doing photocopying under the watchful eye of a senior secretary you are soaked in the culture and values of the business – nebulous things which are much harder to grasp as you get older and slot into more senior positions. Older and more experienced staff are able to instil old fashioned manners, work ethic and respect through example. Of course there are stories of scary bullies in every office – but that is part of life too.
These early experiences, good or bad, will colour your approach to work forever. For example it is striking how anyone who has ever worked as a waiter will be more pleasant to restaurant staff than someone who hasn’t.
I looked up was meant by “high quality work experience” – the CIPD “Get Britain Working” paper recommends that these placements are, amongst other things, “supported, supervised and mentored; with managed expectations and feedback; and about gaining transferable skills, or, as they put it tasks, not tea”. So turns out they mean well managed work experience – the high quality coming from the organisation, not the tasks.
I think this should be made clearer or it appears to undervalue some kinds of work – and all jobs can be good jobs. As for transferable skills – well, I reckon I still make a decent cup of tea.