Letter from the editor: Work experience isn't the wisest move

  • @stefanohat

Thousands of teens all over the country have used nepotism, bribery and giant cojones to land themselves work experience this past week – it's part of the GCSE syllabus. But don't bother asking any of them how it went, unless you are fluent in grunt.

We have a rotating gang of older, post-grad “workies” here at i and The Independent. The good can manage "hello". The thing is, I am not convinced that doing work experience in your proposed career is actually the wisest move –- especially journalism.

Day one as a blushing lone student male in a sea of terrifying be-bobbed, blackclad, Filofax-toting, apple-and-yoghurt- for-lunch grazing fashionistas at Company magazine scarred me for life. Naturally, I was asked to write about my specialist subject: the Top 10 facepacks. (That Top 10 construct is clearly timeless). Much more Univerity of Life was working for British Gas, calculating customer gas bills (it was way back!) which confirmed to me maths had no role in any future day job.

A tiny mail order hosiery company taught me that a, an office could be crippled by politics even when there are only two people (and a blushing workie) in it, and b, that women really, really care about their stockings. Waiting tables in Covent Garden taught me smiles mean tips and that if the staff drink the profits in Beck’s every night after service your restaurant will go under. Croydon Next gave me a life skill: how to fold shirts and sweaters neatly, while at Exeter Next I learnt how to froth a cappuccino with a flourish.

But reading Deborah Ross's all-too- true account of life in Selfridge's beauty department (p26) brought back with a cold sweat the single worst moment of my working life. The Edinburgh crystal and Denbigh china concession in the iconic giant Allders store of the pre-hoodie era taught me to never, but never, accuse the confused, loitering OAP in the corner of shoplifting, and make her turn out her bags and pockets, unless you are 150 per cent sure you saw her steal something first!