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Work ‘experience’: it’s in the name

By Frankie Lewis

Compulsory work experience always promised to be an exciting task. Two weeks off school. Cool. Hours of searching for the most impressive company. Cool.

My own experiences of other kinds of work experience, the kind requiring that you actually give up your own time, didn’t extend beyond dressing up as a Cornish Piskie and skipping through the streets handing out flyers for my mum’s craft market. Cool…

The time spent searching for some big-time, career-aim-relevant company for that first exciting week off school was the good kind of stressful. My hopes and dreams were raised at every mention of Pinewood Studios or the BBC. When my place at BSkyB was confirmed, thanks to a chance connection through parents’ friends, the wash of enthusiasm was maintained.

Six months later, searching for my second placement, I was aiming more tamely. A local art gallery and museum didn’t have the same effect on my CV, but after two days I was in love with the job. The team were close, and everyone was especially unified in excitement over a new exhibition. The display windows were going to be set up like the old shop fronts of Penzance. Two or three days were spent with elderly volunteers, searching through collections of paintings and ceramic ornaments for the ones they remembered with the most fondness from their childhoods.

In the big building in London, I was impressed by the little cards the employees used to get their lunch. They didn’t need to carry money! The kickboxing my supervisor taught in the lunch break sounded so exciting and adult. At moments throughout the week, I caught myself thinking, “it really would be pretty fun working in an office”. The most pleasure I took from the whole experience was staying late or over breaks, because I simply had to finish labelling all those envelopes before being given the second list of addresses the following day. I was positive that my diligent attitude was impressing people. This would be how I’d make connections.

Looking back, six months later, my previous attitude suddenly appeared as pure naivety. Walking along the Penzance waterfront, waves crashing up in ridiculous arches across the road, I’d been taken on an “important” excursion by the woman who was in charge of the shop..

It had started innocently eough. She’d needed to collect some prints and, since she was in charge of me, “no reason you shouldn’t come along”. After fifteen minutes, I knew all about her two daughters at art colleges, their motivations and their every career aim as they had developed from being my age.

There was a disused slip road in the little hidden part of town that I “simply had to see”. I followed her down some pretty steep, rocky steps. There was heavy rain and I was watching out for moss. A few metres away from the spot, she decided it wasn’t the best idea to go all the way down, so we leant against an iron rail and felt the spray from the swelling water crashing against a row of houses. On the way back, she listed artists who’d been fascinated by the movement of water.

I spent the rest of the afternoon drying off in the gallery, staring at the moving, sparkling quality of the sea in every painting. My childish, fearful side had so much been expecting to have to hide that I’d spent four hours doing something so far from working. When the five o’clock team tea break consisted of excitedly chattering about the power of the sea, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to work in a bloody office.

Frankie secured her work experience with BskyB through a family friend. The Careers Department’s teaser campaign revealed that 16% of last year’s graduates got their job through a friend or family member.


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