Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Work versus school experience

My lads are doing ‘work experience’ this week, in an e-learning company, and loving it. Exposure to a real, adult, work environment has certainly made them think. “We didn’t finish until 5.30!...People are really nice” You can see them mature as they have to arrange travel to work, buy their own lunch and generally get organised. This is a really worthy initiative. However, there are some peculiarities to the whole thing.

Class-based placements?

Kids with ‘connected’ parents get better placements, so that placements mirror socio-economic structures. Wouldn’t it be better to get a list of placements and then match, or do a lottery, based on interests and so on. The current system seems to set aspirations according to parental interest, connections and class, not student interests or ability. This system seems to have evolved as, in the absence of an organised system within many schools, the middle-class parents organise placements for their own kids.

Last minute approach

Rather than establishing long-term links with employers, much is left to the last minute resulting in panic, cancelled arrangements and a scramble for placements. Organisations and businesses should be invited into schools to talk to students about their businesses, organisations and work. For example, Business Studies is often taught by people who have no real experience of running a business, yet with this wonderful free resource on their doorstep, why don’t they use it. The truth is that many schools have an old-fashioned anti-corporate ethos. I’ve experienced this hostility personally as a Governor. Both business and education should be more entwined.

H&S chaos

Health & safety nuts cause chaos by demanding too much costly paperwork and too many visits. Many good placements were cancelled in my local schools because the H&S forms/visits hadn’t been completed in time. Surely one could assume that a major company adheres to health and safety standards at work, as they are mandated by law to do so. It doesn’t need all of this paperwork and site visits.

Good news

What was fascinating about my boys’ reactions to their work experience was their reverse reflections on how odd ‘school’ was. They were surprised to find the workplace as a normalised environment, where people generally behave well towards each other and get on diligently with their tasks. They were surprised that managers didn’t have to whip the workers into action.

School suddenly seemed very odd. Full of teachers shouting, demanding and corralling students into doing things they often don’t want to do. School is a crowded, unnatural environment, with lots of marching around corridors on the hour and bells. You’re stuck in a single age group and crammed into classrooms. Schools, I suspect, have a lot to learn from the modern workplace.


Bob Harrison said...

Thanks Donald for this...we have just gone through a similar experience with Kieran(15) who,as I think you know,has Aspergers syndrome. The school (a selective grammar in trafford)has outsourced the work placements to an agency. Needless to say they were not aware of Aspergers or the games industry.!So Kieran's first offer was 2 weeks at the local co-op with a fall back of the cat rescue shelter!

Needless to say we have had to use our own contacts to get him a more appropriate placement.

Let's hope he enjoys it as much as your lads....

Donald Clark said...

Yes. It seems to a very crude process.

Yes, I was aware, from a previous post, that Kieran has Aspergers. Hope he got what he wanted from the experience. It's vital, in my opinion that the students are matched to something that suits their needs. It's been a bit of a hoot listening to my two describe the workplace through 'teenage' eyes.

Are you aware of the early work with with adults with Aspergers in Second Life? I blogged it in Januray 2006:

Ben Betts said...

Interesting thoughts from the Parents side Donald. We have accepted a 15 yr old for a week's work experience at our place this year and even before he's set foot through the door, I regret it.

I have had 2 phone calls, 1 site visit and more forms than I care to remember to fill out from the local authority. Its an awful process and the thing that bothers me the most is how little they care about the learning and the experience.

Every single bit of paperwork was concerned with H&S and other moronic statements (no "horseplay" should be allowed under any circumstances - I'm tempted to take him down to the bookies). Our site visit consisted of checking our Insurance paperwork.

At no time did a form advise us on what should be learnt, what the candidate should take away from the experience, or anything relating to the actual point of it all. They don't care. It's an exercise in getting the child back to school alive as best as I can tell.

It's a real shame because I'm sure we will enjoy the time our candidate stays with us (we've had someone each year for the last 2 years), but no way am I putting up with the BS from the local authority.

Donald Clark said...

Thanks Ben. This was almost word for word what a friend of mine reported, as the CEO of a company in Brighton. It was ALL H&S and nothing on learning. The good news is that responsible employers and the students themselves usually see through this costly nonsense and get on with making it a worthwhile experience. My kids have literally finished today (Friday evening) and have loved their week in a local company. They experienced real work,picked up new skills and were treated well by the company. They're just emailing he staff thanking them for their effort.

The upsycho said...

I've had one go through this and one due to do so next year. Both schools involved supplied the kids with a list of available placements from which the kids could choose. Kids who want to do something else need to arrange it themselves.

My older son was happy to take one of th elisted placements and went to work in the lab at a plastic adhesive company. He really enjoyed it, and fared pretty well. Burnt himself once on molten adhesive, but got glowing reports from the people who had charge of him.

Can you imagine the nightmare of H&S involved when my younger son announced that he wanted to arrange to go to a demolitions firm? Wasn't gonna happen! We have yet to hear where he will be going...

But you are right in that the education system seems to lead our kids to expect what amounts to McGregor's infamous theory x management approach. Sadly, this approach does still exist in places, but we are seeing less and less of it.

Unknown said...

I know that the teacher organising Work Experience at my last school had a major job on her hands. Employers aren't exactly falling over themselves to participate.They don't have just one school asking for help but the entire borough. It can be a bit of a pain in the backside for the.

Many pupils would complain that their placement didn't relate to their job aspirations. She would explain that it wasn't about preparing them for the job they were going to do but for them to experience work. They had to: write a letter introducing themselves, participate in mock interviews with local business people, make a visit/phone call to the workplace to introduce themsleves, work out how they were getting to and from work, work longer hours than at school, dress appropriatley (as Zappa said, we are all in uniforms), follow instructions (without arguing !), work with the people they were told to work with (none of your, 'But I don't want to work with him/her'), keep a diary of their experience and write a letter of thanks at the end.

It's not only the middle class parents that can arrange more appropriate placements. Many of our parents (or relatives) ran trades and businesses and were able to help their child.

Yes, schools are very different to the world of work. However, some aspects of school life -uniform, punctuality, following instructions, working with others depsite personal differences- are preparation for the realities of the work that many pupils will have.

Some pupils were quite indignant at the tasks they were asked to do. One of our boys sat down in the middle of Halfords refusing to open boxes: he got sent home. In fact several were sent home for refusing to do tasks they felt beneath them. This was a learning curve for them because they were so used to a school environment where teachers coax them into working it came as a shock to experience a no-nonsense attitude. It showed them the reality that if they didn't work at school and went out with nothing to offer, how could they expect to do anything other than low level tasks?

Many others, often pupils who were dificult at school, came back with glowing reports and offers of Saturday jobs or work after they left school. This confirmed what may of us already felt: why does society force children to sit through lessons about Shakespeare, Simultaneous Equations and The Second World War (usually yet again) when what they really want to be doing is putting tyres on cars?

And yes, the whole country seems to be obsessed with H&S. And don't get me started on CRB checks...I have three.

Donald Clark said...

Thanks for this - a pretty honest and realistic account of what goes on.

The teacher in my schools was also fantastic and worked like a Trojan to get things sorted. The problem in my view is the lack of planning and organisation, along with excessive H&S. I suppose my appeal is for more general links between local businesses/organisations and schools. The only contact seems to be 'requests for placements'. This is not healthy.

Rina Tripathi said...

A few days back, here in Mumbai my daughter was singing a poem she was creating as she sang. It went like this: three years... mamma no strict no strict, four years mamma no strict... five years school very strict very strict... (then it kept on geting strictand hard). College... very strict very strict and then in the end office no strict no strict...sometimes very strict...

I remembered your posts here and could not think of a better example, how kids relate to the schools! Am cornered now and soon I will be taking her at express speed across reading English, Hindi and the basic Maths. The pressures are such and her elder brother dosen't make it easy for her. Thanks for these lovely posts, will read all once am back in Delhi.

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