Terrified! – Obsessed! – Focused? Experience of the work experience.

Terrified! – Obsessed! – Focused?

Experience of the work experience – Oh My Days! Is it that bad?

Ever do work experience as a kid? Maybe you spent a few days making dodgy cups of teas and shredding paper at an office? If you were particularly unfortunate you may have even spent a dreary Tuesday mutely shadowing some poor sod doing a job you don’t understand in a sector you had no interest in.

I never did work experience when I was growing up in Poland but I had plenty of jobs which were… an experience.  Waitress in an Indian restaurant, a door-knocker selling telecoms for a micro business, air-hostess for national airline, cleaning houses, party hosting (ok, that one was actually really cool!), barmaid in a local pub – none of these were exactly my dream jobs.

Trust me, at no point in my youth did I even daydream about the logistics of cleaning a 5-bed house top to toe by myself in under two hours for a letting agency. I did it though and I learned a hell of a lot about time efficiency in the progress.

And this is where this starts: having worked for the MAXIMeyes Group of companies for many, many years I have witnessed a lot of young guys coming through our office door either for work experience or an apprenticeship. Some of those that came years ago are still there, full time members of the team. But recently when speaking to my business friends I am hearing things that frighten me!

I was surprised, disappointed and puzzled with their feedback on the young and bright minds that entered a work experience in their companies… Read on.

European vs. British – a culture shock

Evan – A sales manager at a medium sized business consultancy in Sutton, Surrey.

Recent experience:

Tammy, 15-year-old student from local school in Surrey

Julka, 18-year-old student from Warsaw, Poland, came to UK to do work experience in order to enhance her young CV

Both tasked with the same work: research a given database of customers, gather contact details, identify decision-maker, make a first intro call. Provided with office management training, basic account management and trained on using various CRM systems.

Feedback on Tammy:

  • happy to use the computer for the research
  • terrified to pick up the phone to complete the last 20% of the task
  • obsessed with her personal mobile phone, even whilst working on a task
  • not happy to take her headphones out of her ears, even when being spoken to
  • skulking around the office, avoiding eye contact
  • out the door by 2pm with no further questions asked

I was left with the impression that she was naturally shy and not used to an adult working environment. What elements of the work she was willing to complete she did well and with decent level of enthusiasm.

A shocking comment really, if you ask me: “What elements of the work she was willing to complete…” – where on earth you get to pick and choose what work you are doing in an office when you are 15 and doing work experience? Isn’t it the case, that you are tasked with stuff that is suitable to your level of experience (or not, sometimes, true, you are thrown into deep water and you either sink or swim) and you get on with it!?

When Tammy was asked “What are you hoping to get out of this?” she reportedly replied with a sullen “dunno”. Now this may have not been Tammy’s dream job, but surely there was something for her to gain from the experience?! Let’s be honest, we have all been presented with jobs we didn’t like or social situations that we would rather avoid, but just because something is difficult or complicated, should it mean that the experience isn’t worth anything?

Feedback on Julka:

  • Energetic and interested in task at hand
  • Handling all given tasks promptly and with positive attitude, even including cold calling
  • Participating in office life by getting to know other people
  • Focused
  • Offering help out of her own accord
  • Out of the office by 5pm

Now, Julka is a very different kettle of fish. By all accounts she was eager, polite and actually hard working. When I spoke to Evan he seemed genuinely impressed by her. When asked if she would ever like to become a sales person following her experience, she firmly replied: “Not a chance! That’s too hard!” Hold on a sec… so you did it with so much energy and commitment and you actually hated it? “No, I didn’t; it was a great experience, but that’s not for me and now I know it for sure!”

Go Julka!

Where is the motivation? C’mon guys! Pull your socks up!

Matt – Lead Project Manager at a company within the utilities sector, South London

Recent experience:

Thomas & Jane – 16-year-old students from local school, completing work experience at the same time.

Working on different tasks, including document filing, data entry on excel, basic office admin; trained on SME finance systems, client account management, use of Salesforce CRM system.

Feedback on Thomas:

  • Little motivation
  • Taking very long time to complete a task
  • Training and development opportunities lost due to lack of time
  • Documents mixed up following digital filing
  • Didn’t turn up to work after 2 days in the office without any notice

There is no doubt that Thomas’ attitude was questionable and the whole process felt like a waste of everyone’s time.

Don’t have to look to hard to see the problem here. Clearly Tom didn’t want to work within the industry or in an office and had no interest in pretending he had.  We’ve got another Tammy, people…

I spoke in my last blog post (link) about the average cost of training up a new starter to a business (around £25,181.00). While this is an extreme example, Matt does seem to be experiencing the effect of having an ill-equipped candidate first hand here. Having staff members without the skill set or in this case, drive does have a measurable effect on the business and a knock-on effect on staff.

Feedback on Jane:

  • Very shy, but tended to listen and execute tasks independently which was refreshing
  • Willingness to make an effort
  • Positive attitude
  • Little team engagement
  • I would rate the performance as fairly average overall, there was nothing exceptional but at the same time Jane did demonstrate a willingness to make an effort with every task which is the minimum I would expect.

Now this one speaks volumes to me. What did Matt like about Jane? She was relatively competent and didn’t require a lot of effort. Because Jane showed a basic willingness to work she was one of the strongest placements of the lot! She was in fact, of the three British candidates, the only one to show any enthusiasm or willingness at all.

 

What really stood out to me is that 3 out of 4 of them didn’t see the value in the experience, which is something I don’t understand. It’s almost as if they haven’t quite clicked that in a few short years they may well have to buckle and down and (dare I say it) work in an office just like the losers they were bored of working with last week!

This to me seems something which is frighteningly present in UK culture amongst the younger generations. Hard work seems to them an archaic and obsolete model of work. Perhaps because kids don’t have to wait for things as much as we did growing up they are just too centred on instant gratification?

Julka’s attitude and approach is exactly what I was hoping to hear from UK kids. When presented with an opportunity to learn she threw her skill set and determination at it and seemed to genuinely learn a few things along the way.

 Take the most of it!!! It’s all there for grabs, for God’s sake!

I’ve cherry picked skills and lessons throughout my working life and I do believe that there is something to be gleaned from every situation.  A good waitress has excellent customer service skills and is extremely adaptable to sudden pressures. Any door knocker worth their salt can shrug off rejection like water off a duck’s back. Want to be an air hostess? Get ready to learn a thing or two about humility, responsibility and stamina. You try being positive after 8 hours stuck in a metal tube sharing recycled air with 300 strangers and be on point to rescue every single one of them in case anything happens.

Every single one of those experiences has brought me a skill or experience. And I can say with a hand on my heart that I am proud of what I brought to the table in each one of those positions.

Ultimately, I don’t completely understand why kids today in the UK just don’t seem like they can be bothered.  It’s true kids like Julka give me hope, give me a work force full of Julkas and I’ll take over the world, but it worries me. Is the reason Julka actually seemed to give a damn because she hasn’t been exposed to the full blast of growing up amongst this “I don’t care” attitude? If this is the case does that mean that, even now, she is being dragged down by the phone obsessed Tammys and Thomases of the world?

Julka, if you’re out there, stay strong – the next generation are going to need you!

Have you had a work experience placement come to your place of work recently? If so I’d love to read your insights in the comments section below!

*  All names in this article have been changed to ensure anonymity * 

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