Why I took on a work experience student

When I was at school, work experience was a week at computer shop in my home town. Alongside me on the placement was a boy called Robert, who was from a different school. I was really excited about the prospect of getting to learn more about IT, especially as we'd just got a Windows 95 PC at home; our first ever computer.

I still remember being amazed that I could watch Weezer's Buddy Holly music video on this magical device. 

I was hoping to go out on some customer service tech support calls and get to have a play around with the inside of a computer in order to start learning how it all worked. 

Instead what happened was data entry. Lots and lots of data entry.

The same task, for the whole week. Now that might have been fine if it was simply a case of them not trusting the work experience person with their tech; however Robert got to play with the computers, and Robert got to go out on support visits. I even asked partway through the week specifically if I could get more hands on, but apparently the data entry was very important and they couldn't possibly spare me.

I was quite shy at that age, so just accepted my data entry fate and got on with it. Now of course, I'd have fought my corner much more and addressed the apparent sexism at play. I've written about how there were quite obvious hints throughout my weird portfolio career that maybe I was a bit of a geek, and actually I'd forgotten this one. Probably because it was such a non-starter! 

My own fairly terrible experience was certainly a strong factor in choosing to take on a placement student, but I was also really excited to fly the freelance flag, as it were.

I went to quite an academic school, and so the kind of careers we were ushered towards were fairly traditional. The most exotic A-level subject available to us was Economics! Freelancing as a job had never even crossed my mind until I was doing my MA in Translation (see, weird portfolio career) at which point it transpired that work options as a translator were very limited unless you were self-employed.

Sadly, the University gave us exactly zero support around the practical elements of working for ourselves. Back then, the internet was not this magnificent beast we see before us now, so it was really hard to find support and information around what it was actually like to be a freelancer, and even how to start.

I got scared and ended up doing the other obvious job if you have a language degree: teaching. I was miserable for two years and then left to work for a sustainability charity, and it wasn't until almost 10 years after my translation degree that I finally plucked up the courage to go freelance, and set up The Wheel Exists. 

So I wanted to offer an insight into freelance life, if only for a week, to a student who might otherwise not have considered it as a career.

I had previously contacted several schools near me in the Peak District to offer a work experience placement, but never had any response. Luckily, I was approached by UTC MediaCity (a technical college focusing on the digital media sector) as I'd previously given a talk to their students about life as a freelancer. They matched me with a student, Angelika, and gave me a lot of forms to complete! It made me quite grateful for how relatively little bureaucracy there is when you're self-employed. Or is it just that I normally run away from anything involving paperwork?

Planning out tasks for Angelika to work on was both exciting and challenging; I'd had a little contact with her but not really enough to fully gauge her skills and abilities. As the week coincided with International Women's Day, there were a lot of events happening and so I knew she'd get to have a pretty varied experience.

During the placement, what struck me most was how self-aware Angie was at the age of 15. She was very clear about her strengths and weaknesses as well as her learning styles, and she also had a great work ethic. Whilst she'd expressed an interest in web design, it became apparent throughout the week that her real passion was illustration, so I really hope that she does manage to do something with that talent in the future!

To hear about the placement from Angie's perspective, check out her guest post over at Freelance Folk where she talks about her experience being freelance for a week. 

Katy CarlisleComment