Few weeks ago I had completed 8 weeks of work experience at a small business which I took the job role as Social Media Marketer. This particular opportunity came about through the Job Centre after a long time looking for jobs. However, during my time working for this business, I with regret have to say that there were more negatives about the experience rather than positives. I will later outline the issues in detail below.
Please do not think this is an attack on the Job Centre or their Work Experience Scheme. It certainly is not. It is me pinpointing the issues surrounding the place I was on work experience. You may have read stories within the media about large companies taking advantage and benefiting from this particular scheme but it is the same with small businesses too. Let’s put this in context first, I graduated from University last summer (July 2011) in Media Studies and from the outset I was applying to various jobs from internships, apprenticeships, full time, part time as well as voluntary work. Yes, I was classed as unemployed and seeking for work. I had not much previous employment history and I needed some sort of opportunity to breakthrough, to potential job prospects in the future. I had to meet my personal advisor Jon, at the Job Centre every 6 weeks and he mentioned to me about the Work Experience Scheme and kept an eye out for any opportunities that came to light.
7 months had passed by, I must have done over 230 job applications with 3 interviews and many e-mails stating I was unsuccessful and the common reason was I did not have enough experience. I was becoming desperate to get a job whether it was retail, media related, sales and office work. I was trying to keep myself busy by blogging and I have continued to do so. Finally, there was a breakthrough, Richard (Personal Advisor at the Job Centre) got in contact with me with a work experience opportunity at a small business who deals with finance and the role would be ‘Social Media Marketing’. I e-mailed Richard my CV and covering letter as I could not directly contact the employer and await news from him soon. The following day, I received the following job description;
‘Social Media Marketing Role – “This is an opportunity to gain work experience in web- based marketing for a financial services company. The role primarily involves promoting services using social media. Will monitor company Facebook pages & Twitter profiles for questions and feedback, grow the community and engage with the audience regularly in creative ways. Will need; excellent verbal and written communication skills; experience of using Facebook and Twitter (not necessarily in a work setting); enthusiasm and creativity; the ability to work independently as well as within a team. Experience using WordPress would be preferred, but not essential.”’
I agreed to apply for this work experience opportunity at Clarke Baptiste as it was something I would be able to undertake as a step towards a career and received confirmation of an interview. On the interview day, I was 20 minutes early as I always like to be on time, Fred the owner of the business seemed unprepared on my arrival. During the interview process, he examined and went through my CV with questions to find out more about myself. He was impressed that I had not already got a job which I was pleased by the compliment. Fred explained the responsibilities to the job role and it was not about the financial side to his business but his affiliated websites he owns. Tom, the administrator to Fred explained to me what the websites are and what they want to achieve by the person filling in this role. They seemed impressed by my credentials and offered me a chance to showcase my abilities so I agreed to the position available and started work on 13/02/2012.
Here is what I was getting myself into, the following websites and Twitter accounts in the 8 weeks of work experience.
I was nervous and excited at the same time and prepared to give my all towards this opportunity. I was shown around the building where the kitchen, staff room and toilets where. As far as the health and safety aspects to the induction, I was only shown the two fire exits in case there was an emergency and nothing further. At no point during this hour and half, was I told where the First Aid box/kit was and who in the building is qualified to handle the situation if it did ever occur. I was told there are other businesses in the building so I had to be aware of people knocking on the door and to answer the door. The office was on the left to the entrance of the building. Everything was really brief and it was not very well prepared as it seemed Fred was just doing it as he was going along. Not that I am the one to say how to run his business or how he conducts business.
After the induction was done, I was handed over to Tom, who would tell what I had to do and follow the guide he has made. There was no clear structure to what I actually had to do and when. It was on my shoulders to be organised and use my initiative within the working hours. I was given 3 websites to work on; Dress Up Girls, Golf Glove and Touch Screen Tablet. I thought it was fair and realistic for me to handle, if I did need help or need to report anything, I would have to delegate to Tom, who is accountable to these websites.
What my responsibilities included for each website:
- Searching for latest products from selected online stores.
- Copywriting descriptions and specifications for each product.
- Uploading products and images using WordPress.
- Searching for product pricing units so there is a link to the product.
- Using Excel to input products into the product database for specific website.
- Using Facebook to interact with potential customers and target audience by posting regular updates and getting people to ‘like’ the business pages.
- Using Twitter to interact with potential customers and target audience by posting regular updates, being involved with the Trending Topic and responding to tweets.
- Pre-scheduling tweets on Tweetdeck for the week ahead.
- Blogging latest information and news on the selected website.
- Changing the layout and appearance of the websites.
The first week was pretty much me working alone in the office, with Fred going out and Tom finishing around 1pm or 1.30pm. Fred would be out the building as he would be going to see clients. When left alone, I would not be told if Fred would be coming back. Being on work experience, I had no supervision whatsoever while I was left alone. This was also the case in the coming weeks.
There was no time keeping from the employer; I started at 9am and he would come in for 9.30am and sometimes at 10am. I was left responsible to open the office as I was eventually handed the keys to the office. On more than one occasion I would be left waiting outside until someone arrived at the office, even if it was an hour later than the 9am start if I did not have the keys. There were no phone calls to say he was running late or if he would be coming in on the day. I was always left to carry on doing the work that was set. A new person started on my third week and I had to change the layout of another website which I was responsible for. She had to ask me for help as I was the Social Media Marketer on one of her websites she had to look after.
During this week, I started to feel unwell. On Friday, I rang Fred first thing in the morning saying I will not be able to make it in and I may be back on Monday. Fred’s reply was “You will have to make up for loss of time”. My response was surprised and a feel of shock as he so bluntly put it. I then tried to ring Richard (Job Centre Advisor) to find out the situation with sick days, as I did not know how to react to what Fred had said. I was unable to get in touch with Richard then but was confused and mystified by the situation I was in. I went back into work on the Monday, still feeling under the weather. I had given the office keys to the other work experience girl, there was no call or mention to me whether to come in at 9 or they will be there to open the door. I was made to stand outside for 30mins in the cold with my fever as the girl started at 9.30am. As the afternoon approached, Fred said, “If you’re not feeling well, go home. I haven’t got time to be ill as I’ve got things to do”. So I decided to take a half day as I was still very ill. I was told again upon my return to work that I would have to make up for loss of time. I did not make it in on Tuesday but sent him a text message to say I would not be coming in, I had received no response from Fred to this. Later on in the same evening I texted him to say I will be in on Wednesday, again no response from him.
On that Thursday, Fred called me into another room after I had entered into the premises. He proposed a job offer and he clearly stated “Do not tell the Job Centre and it does not leave this room, I am willing to offer you the same job position with no pay but I can pay for your travel expenses or give you a lift”. I had to let him know within 2 weeks if I should take it or not. In the back of my head hearing this, I kept how can he say that to me, is it not illegal? Again, on Friday during the usual weekly meeting he reiterated that I should not tell the Job Centre about this ‘proposed job offer’. At this point I had lost all trust in Fred as he was offering me a job that would potentially be classed as illegal, I am an honest and truthful person and I was disgusted by what he had offered. I would not risk anything for the sake of an unpaid job and I felt that I proved myself to be more than worthy of the minimum wage and could not understand why he was offering this. He also offered the same proposition to the girl that was on work experience too. I later told him, I would not accept his job offer.
The fifth week was pretty much the same; I and the other girl were left alone during the afternoons with no supervision and lack of communication as well as no time keeping. I and she would be there before Fred and Tom daily. It was like we were keeping the business afloat rather than its owners/more senior members of staff. I often just thought that it could prove we were capable of running the business ourselves without any supervision. We knew no one in the rest of building apart from the landlord who we saw through the door but everyone else in the building was unknown. I spoke to Richard at the office when he visited to see how things were. Richard saw that neither Fred nor Tom were there and the other person on work experience as she was unwell. I advised Richard, on his visit, about the ‘job offer’ along with my other concerns including the ridiculous working conditions including dusty keyboards, being left alone in the office, lack of communication and not getting a chance to speak to Fred in the office. If Fred did ring, he would as ‘Unknown’ rather than showing his number. Sometimes I would not answer unknown numbers on my phone as he did not have a landline in the office.
Richard was very comforting about the situation and he explained that I could leave at any time and do not have to continue the full 8 weeks period. In some media stories, it was reported people were forced to carry out the full term of their work experience placement. This was not the case and it was made to seem it was by many media outlets. I was in my sixth week and stated I am not a quitter but I will carry on with the two weeks as it would fly by. Some would say I was naïve by making this decision, once I am told to do something or carry out a job, I do not hesitate to complete it. He was disgusted by hearing our experiences and was quick to point out this work experience scheme was meant to be something I could benefit from. The following week Richard came by and both I and the girl were there in the morning. Again, we raised the concerns regarding the situation and he informed us that in order for him to act on the employer, we would have to write a written complaint to him so he can process it to his manager.
During the last 2 weeks, I was told to make a hand over document for future job seekers. I felt that I was made to do Fred’s job of providing others with a structure to follow. I did not receive any form of documentation like this when I started the role but still managed to do a hand over document as requested. At times it was difficult to speak to Fred as he was either seeing clients, busy on the phone or doing something with his family. I did confront him on the issue of being left alone and he replied with ‘I have to see clients’. Afterwards, he made me start off a blog and Twitter account for his other business venture of ‘Wikaniko’. Again, adding more workload which was unrealistic to handle as I had control of 5 websites, including uploading products, copyrighting descriptions, searching for products and managing the Facebook and Twitter accounts. In Fred’s mind, he was already prepared to ask Richard for more work experience job seekers and he thought he would be getting more people to work for him.
Overall, the experience I have had has not been a pleasant one but I feel that the role has given me an experience I will never forget. I personally think the employer is taking advantage of the Job Centre Work Experience scheme in order that only Fred can benefit from it. I had lost faith and trust in him since he offered me that job proposition. I had the chance to leave at 6 weeks but I was I was naïve to not quit as I had 2 weeks left and wanted to gain a potential reference at the end of the 8 week period.
It was since transpired that Fred was not willing to write a reference as promised, as he had lost trust in me. This really got my blood boiling as I believed it had been an absolute disgrace and waste of my time for 8 weeks to give my all to help a small company who in return does not keep to its word. I believed I helped promote and stick to the job description and beyond. I felt like I had been treated in the most inhumane way possible and it worries me that there are potential job seekers in the future that will have to go through what I did with this company. I immediately got in contact with Richard, who then had received my letter of complaint about my work experience. He also rang to say he had an intervention with Fred about me and that he is obliged to write a reference. Eventually, I obtained a reference from Fred.
Throughout this ordeal, I’m glad I got to meet Richard from the Job Centre who advises fellow job seekers on work experience. Without him, I would not have been able to speak to about the concerns I had experienced. This is not an attack on the system as we hear from other stories from other peoples experiences. I firmly believe, the small business owner was seeing it as an opportunity of free labour which I think it transcribes as slave labour. It is not only the large organisations who are doing this but it is also the small businesses. I hope my experience has shed some light on this situation and wish others do not have to go through it too.