Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Work Experience

Thank you for all the kind comments about the last blog - apparently I made a few people cry.  Maybe I should aim to do that with every one I write?  You'll be lucky with this one...

Recently I was assigned someone to look after for an afternoon during their work experience.  Now I can't remember a great deal about my work experience when I was 15 but I don't remember sitting there fidgeting and yawning.  I'm pretty sure I wasn't checking my mobile the moment my mentor spoke to someone else (I'd have had a job - I didn't get a mobile till the following year).  And I'm absolutely certain I didn't announce midway through a chat that I would be leaving at 4pm so there probably wasn't much point carrying on.

Equally, I didn't get to spend my work experience at a broadcaster.  By year 10 I was fairly sure that was the direction I wanted to move in but the stock work experience opportunities offered by my school didn't stretch to anything that, well, interesting.  I wrote directly to my local BBC radio station but they, understandably, said they couldn't offer anything to those as young as I was at the time, and restricted this sort of thing to college and degree students.  So I ended up doing a week at my Mum's employer, the Energy Saving Trust.  I'd already done casual holiday work there so knew a lot of the staff too, which made for a good week.

Five years later and I was advised by my university supervisor that if I was wanting to get into broadcasting then in addition to my student TV and radio work it would be a good idea to try and get some unpaid experience at a broadcaster in my holidays.  So I wrote back to the same person at the BBC who had told me to come back when I was older, and to his credit he invited me in for a chat.  After a quick conversation where we didn't talk about much, but presumably enabled him to decide I wasn't a complete nutter (phew!), I was offered a four week placement working on the station's afternoon show starting in July 2004.  I didn't expect it to be as easy as that and I certainly didn't expect it to be for a whole month!

The afternoon show was, and still is, presented by a self-styled "cheeky chappy" who has broadcast in the area for 30 years, and is well-known for his quick-fire wit and earthy scouse humour.  Naturally, in person he was miserable as sin and he barely spoke to me when I was there, even avoiding eye-contact as I sat opposite him in the cafe next door to the studios where I was introduced.  Now I'm well aware I was just the latest in a long line of work experience kids, no doubt some of which were not much to write home about, but he could have made a bit more of an effort, especially given the way at BBC Local Radio at that point was to basically use work placements as unpaid broadcast assistants, as there wasn't the budget to employ one of those in addition to a producer (hence the lengthy four-week placement).  Once the show got underway I enjoyed myself a bit more - sitting behind the glass in the control room, watching it all go out, made me more certain than ever that broadcasting was where I wanted to be.

As I sat there I remember feeling a bit chilly, but thought that it must have just been over-enthusiastic air-con.  On the way home the coldness continued, turning into full-on shivering on the bus and resulting in almost being unable to talk to my (then new) girlfriend on the phone once I got home.  The next morning I woke up with a chin the size of Desperate Dan, and after being sent to the doctor's by my sister I was diagnosed with mumps.  She's a nurse now.  I like to think I was her first patient!  I was "signed off" for a week (if you can be signed off when working for free), so they must have got a funny impression of me - there for one day and then falling ill.

When I returned the following week I continued for a short while with the Chuckle Brother in the afternoons.  One cringe-worthy moment was when I was invited through to the studio to announce the result of a phone-in competition.  I looked down at the scrawled hand-writing of the producer in front of me and said into the microphone that the winner was so-and-so from "Widerby".  As soon as I said it I knew that "Widerby" was not an actual place in the local area and there was an awkward moment as we tried to work out, live on air, what it actually said.  As the next record played it became clear that what was written was W/Derby, i.e. West Derby...  

Other than the chance to embarrass myself to the region I wasn't being given much to do, so I got chatting to the producer of the morning show - a young, charasmatic guy who had clearly spotted that I didn't have much to keep me busy.  He diplomatically offered to my afternoons producer to take me on to help with the morning show, which I naturally jumped at, so started coming in at 9am instead.  What a difference!  The morning presenter was a former commercial local radio breakfast show jock who had moved to the BBC a few years previously, so was a celebrity of sorts to people of my age, and he was a breath of fresh air - a genuinely lovely guy to work with.  He was enjoying the lie-ins his new slot allowed and said he would never return to breakfast hours.  Of course, today he presents the breakfast show on the station.

Being still in his thirties he was easily one of the youngest people on air at the station, so his show was therefore a much more interesting one to work on.  I had a good time helping out editing trails, answering the phones and sorting out competitions (I'm rather glad this was a few years before the scandals as we didn't put much science behind picking the winners, but then when the prize was a cheap recipe book did it really matter?).  I even presented on air at one point when visiting a "Maize Maze" in the Wirral.  They seemed to like me (apparently "the best placement we've had" - although that was probably what they said to everyone) so I starting to wonder whether I perhaps had a future at the station.  I was asked back the following Easter and again in the summer of 2005 following graduation.  By this point their enthusiasm had cooled slightly and I was told I'd done as much unpaid as I was allowed to do and should now start looking for positions to apply for.  This was a blessing in disguise really, as I started to research positions in London to join my girlfriend who had just moved down there, and quickly found myself applying to ITV - and I'm still there now.

So that was the end of my time doing work experience.  It is something that demands a fair bit of understanding on either side: that the employer does not offer placements where it is difficult to do anything constructive, and that the person on the placement realises that they are quite lucky, and are not being taken on because their mentor needs someone to keep them busy.  This week I'm in Leeds training the lovely YTV guys, as the role I got back in 2005 is being relocated.  Obviously there's a lot of nodding and listening involved but thankfully none of them have yet started yawning or checking their texts yet...