In light of the recent controversey about the Work Experience schemes that McDonalds has taken part in and workfare in general, I thought I would share the most interesting experience of the two Work Experience schemes I have been subjected to.
My first Work Experience was in Year 10, which would be in July 2009. They first announced it months before, giving us time to find a placement which, if your not going to get one through family links, which I did eventually, involves going around helplessly handing out CV's much like you would be looking for a real job, especially like looking for so called "hidden jobs", companies dont advertise work experience vacancys. So despite being the first to ring a local rehearsal/recording studio, who would later take on about 5 of my mates from the same school and year etc, and looking at many other places, I failed to find any placements.
This meant that the school made me come in for a week when every one else in my year was gone. If I had to some up my first day in one word, it would be "grim". They really did not know what to do with me, so at the begginning of the day I was just sitting around waiting to be told what to do. Eventually, they sent me to reprographics. They made me go through a huge pile of papers and laminate them with a laminating machine. It was literally mind numbing. 2 hours felt like 2 days, but salvation arrived in the form of break time. But of course, all my friends were off at their placements, so I just sort of stood outside eating with nothing to do and no one to speak to, hoping that no one came up and asked me why I was there, because it was a bit humilating.
Now I can not quite remember if this was on the first or second day, but at a lunch time, having found another kid that had not got a placement, I eventually got the balls to walk out at lunch. Now this was the first time I had walked out, and with how I was at the time, I was quite scared, although I had a reserved sense of pride that I had mustered the courage to do such a thing. I got home and my mum was there, and the first thing I said to her was "have they rung you yet?". (If I can quickly explain, our school, and this is probably standard now, has a truency call system where if you dont turn up on the register when you have attended lesson before that or had been registered in the morning, they would call your parents to see if they know what happened etc. ) But when my Mum replied "no?", and when all it took was the simplest lies the next day to convince the people in reprographics I was still in school, just working somewhere else in another department, I realised my school had not been bothering to register me.
This was a dismal failure at the duty of care that schools are meant to provide. As an anarchist, we dont really expect schools to fullfill the purpose of un biased learning and education, teaching critical thought etc, but even we would expect the school to be at least competent at this. But it appears even with just a couple of kids in one year to take care of, as opposed to the usual number of approximately 200 kids, they had messed up.
Fortunately, my parents were understanding, so knowing I would not get told off by my parents for doing so and that I had good chances of not getting caught, I had the confidence to leave more pre maturely as the week went on. I think I left at lunch again the following days until it got to a point where one day I left before school even started lessons. I was sitting in reception waiting for some one to tell me what to do as usual, but no one took any notice of me. When I walked in the receptionist just told me to wait for some one to come. She clearly did not have a clue, but I will cut her some slack. So as I said, no teachers, no nothing. I was so frustrated I walked out the earliest I had done so far. Like I said it was before actual lessons even started, so it would be about 8 50 AM. I got home quite furious and was home alone until my dad got in from work.
Until then, my parents were sympathetic but still said something along the lines of "I know its shit but you have to go, just soldier through it". I told my dad and he was pretty angry, but he showed some restraint, calmed down, and asked me what I wanted him to do. I said I would like him to come into school with me the next day and talk to the school. He agreed to do this and so the next day we did just that.
He did not absolutely lose it but gave the woman who ran the work experience thing within the school a fair bollocking, albeit in a flat, un raised tone. Despite this, she had the audacity to just sort of dodge the issue from what I could discern (though I was largely paying little attention as the whole thing felt a bit awkward and intimidating) for the whole conversation and instead talked about how I should of got a placement in the first place etc and that I therefore could not complain about doing boring menial tasks. My dad did not ask for me to have the next and final day of the week off, nor threaten taking this any furthe. We just asked for me to work with the studio technician some how because I was interested, and still am, in going into sound engineering and also because he was a decent guy etc. Not only did they refuse me to do any other more meaninful/relevant work, but some how, they managed to get me to come in the next day and do largely the same type of work again to round the week off.
So I finished the week at the school on Friday and over the weekend my dad managed to get me a placement at a company where a family friend worked for the following week. I was nervous but on the whole really grateful and relieved to be getting away from the laminating machine. This week was pretty good actually. I had no interest in the field that the company was in (selling industrial heating products), and was made to do similarly menial tasks, but the guys there treated me very well and I formed a tentative and temporary friendship (but thats probably not the right word) with some of the employees working there. The guy that was charged with looking after me and telling giving me stuff to do, or at least finding some one that had stuff that I could do, paid for my lunch all week from the canteen downstairs. Another guy made some what of an effort to get me doing something more interesting by doing a role play with me like he was a customer and I was the person on the other end of the line dealing with his enquiry and telling him what product he needed to do what he needed.
On my last day, despite having forgotten to tell me it was "casual/dress down friday", they even did a whip around in the whole office and gave me around £60. On the way home, the guy who did the role play with me turned got on the same bus as me and we had a good conversation. It turned out we had a shared interest in music and he told me how he played bass in a band. Also, I must of had some vague leaning towards the left wing as I remember talking with him about how he had ended up working for a company who sold heaters to big oil companies/factorys despite having done a degree in something about Environmental protection or something vaguely eco conscious and how ironic/shit that was.
So that was my taste of Work Experience first time around. I wont tell you about the second one, becuas there is nothing to tell. It was technically not work experience, but work shadowing, and I just followed my boss around for two days (I got the placement with my boss at the place I do work for occasionally). Also, I know I was lucky to have that second week, other people probably experienced the same amount of boredom I did during the first week for the whole 2. In fact, my mates who got the placement with the recording studio I had originally wanted to do it at did nothing but clean and wash cars.
Finally, I would like to express soldiarity with those protesting these work experience schemes and workfare. I think i heard some company have backed out of the scheme, so the pressure seems to be working.
Lead photograph by Rob Pinney www.robpinney.com