If my memory serves me right in 1987 Work Experience at secondary school was optional. Having a Saturday job (£1.57 an hour at Greggs – it’s amazing how quick you get sick of strawberry tarts) and a M.E.N. paper round I thought maybe I knew all I needed to know about hard graft.
And that’s as far as my thoughts wandered on that subject.
That is until a regular customer at the cattery confirmed their summer booking and caught me on the hop. Could their 15-year-old daughter spend her work experience week with me?
I’ll be honest.
I wanted to say “NO!”
Very quickly and very loudly.
I had a system. A routine, even. I started in the morning with a cup of tea calling “good morning” to all my residents in as many different voices as I could muster that early in the morning and I really didn’t need a witness. But the slippery word “maybe” shot from between my teeth at an alarming speed before I could catch it.
“Maybe!!” I whined later to Bob “Why didn’t I just say no?” Yes – a statement rather than a question.
Several emails later I agreed a start time late enough so as not to disturb my morning stroll down the garden to work. And sulked.
From the moment Lauren walked into the cattery on that first day my eyes opened just a little wider and saw something a little shinier than my ordinary working morning.
Lauren was firstly great company. She giggled at my jokes and said how pleased she was to be here. A far cry from bribing my own children with an hourly rate that might bring early bankruptcy. While she cleaned and brushed her enthusiasm and energy was infectious. I screwed loose, (snubbed) panels tight, realigned emergency exit signs, filed accounts and cleaned windows I purposely never observed. (It’s called selective vision – I’m an expert) I was bowled over by her focus. She is an accomplished photographer. Her confidence was so inspiring to witness. I’d only ever seen her on a quick drop off visit and mainly spoken to her parents. I realised how much I’d overlooked this blossoming young lady in those meetings and then came a realisation. The question was not just what I, as a small business owner, had to offer her. But what she had to offer me.
Consequently my shame rose to new challenge. That I would offer a pupil at Knutsford Academy a work placement every year.
So when Sarah phoned the cattery looking for such a placement I said “yes” immediately.
“I was really nervous phoning businesses out of the blue and asking for a work experience placement so having the first one say yes was a real surprise but a big boost to my confidence.” Says Sarah, 15, from Knutsford Academy as we plan her placement.
Sarah was looking for something working with animals in a positive environment. From my point of view, offering a job just cleaning out cats with the icing of the odd cuddle seemed a little under whelming – I felt I had been the winner with Lauren’s placement. So, to enrich the experience I decided to ask Sarah to organise an open day event!
“When Zoe asked me to organise the open day I was a bit nervous because I really wanted to do a good job and not mess it up! But at the same time I was really excited to do something I’ve never done before!”
I’m amazed at Sarah’s enthusiasm! So far she has planned musicians, stalls and even come up with an idea to raise money for her chosen charity.
Above all the whole experience of working with a young person has been inspiring. In the current climate where jobs are in short supply, and the negativity surrounding young people appears to be spiraling slowly towards nonchalance, I’ve had my eyes opened somewhat.
It’s such a shame small businesses aren’t given the information, or encouragement; they need to consider offering a creative contributor of the future a heads up. Maybe it’s because we ourselves need a little pat on the back, a bit of reassurance that the experience we’ve gathered over the – let’s face it, sometimes torturous – years is actually worth something. Like sharing.
So if you’re a web designer, florist, gardener or farmer please share your experience and passion with someone who may look cool and blasé – but is actually storing up all that material for something bigger in the future.
After all, life is a team effort and one day they’ll be telling their work experience placement exactly why they are there…..