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Surviving Teenagers: What's The Point Of Work Experience?

30/08/2011 12:13 | Updated 22 May 2015
Surviving Teenagers: What's the point of work experience?Getty

All teenagers are encouraged to do work experience these days. The minute they've done their GCSEs, they're off out into the world in stiff suits and scratchy ties.

'I want to work in a theatre,' said my daughter earlier this year.

She wants to make and design costumes.

Pushy parents pull strings. One 16-year-old I know wants to be a doctor. He ended up in the operating theatre watching open-heart surgery.

But we didn't have any strings to pull. My daughter spent months emailing and phoning and getting nowhere. Everyone she contacted said you had to be 18. (You can't help wondering whether some employers are using the idea of 'work experience' to get young people to work for nothing.)

It's true that 16-year-olds aren't that useful in an office. Employers don't really know what to do with them. One of my daughter's friends couldn't believe her luck when she was offered a week on a fashion magazine. She spent five days counting coat hangers.

Of course, you've got to start somewhere. Even making tea and doing the filing can give you an idea of how things work.

My first job in journalism was working for the fiction editor on Woman magazine. (Those were the days when weekly magazines used to serialise blockbuster novels.) I spent hours reading the filing cabinets. It was a real eye-opener.

One reader wrote in to complain that the magazine was irresponsible because fictional heroines were always having sex but never getting pregnant. My boss wrote back: 'I think you will find, if you read this week's instalment, that nature has taken its course.'

But back to my daughter's hopeless search for an employer that would take her on. A few weeks ago, quite by chance, we found out that my friend's husband's nephew worked in a theatre. They were happy for her to spend a week with them.

So off she went, nervous and excited. She got stuck in to practical routine jobs. She cleaned lighting cables. She put ticket sales on spreadsheets. She sold programmes.

I may be a bit cynical about the idea of work experience. But when it works – when an employer is genuinely helpful and your teenager has a tiny glimpse into the world they long to join – it's the best idea ever.

'So do you still want to work in a theatre?' I said to my daughter on Friday night when the week was over.

She looked at me, eyes shining. 'Yes,' she said. 'Definitely.'

She was all lit up inside.

West End here we come.

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