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Confessions of a student on work experience

5 September 2019

Lucy Greig

Work is something that, for my whole life, has felt completely out of my reach – growing up with parents working as teachers, my life has revolved around school, be it the school calendar, the school hours, having to help out at open evenings or sitting in on my parent’s classes when I was sick.

The idea that work could be anything other than what my parents do is, while pretty obvious, something I didn’t really get because I’d never known anything different.

Yes, there were others around me who had different jobs, but until this year I hadn’t realised just how much I didn’t know about the working world. While I needed work experience for my CV and applications, I wanted the experience so I could get first-hand involvement in something other than teaching. I am lucky enough that my aunt works in the industry I am interested in, and that’s how I came to work at make:good for a short time.

Take the plunge – school vs work

Jumping from school into the office was a super strange transition. I found it much easier to concentrate; it felt less like I was being talked at and on an opposite team to the teacher, and more like I was really involved in the project and working with those around me to create something.

To me, secondary school is somewhere that doesn’t actually prepare you for the outside world – instead, it teaches you how to beat a test, how to get a grade, how to get out of school with just enough to be able to push your way into the reality of post-secondary life. I know in my school the system is extremely linear, with teachers encouraging involvement in professions based in STEM subjects and academia.

Of course, these are amazing careers in themselves. But what about the kids who don’t want to go into those lines of work?

Opportunity is a key factor involved in work experience. I am lucky enough to have a family member in the creative industry, but what about those who don’t? A lot of the time, schools offer placements in banks, estate agents, shops, local businesses – there isn’t much outreach to the artistic community.

There also isn’t much consideration for those at a disadvantage – it’s really intimidating looking for work experience placements without any help, particularly around the GCSE period, which is when we are encouraged to do it. Exam stress, mixed with pressure from school for work experience, is unsurprisingly not a good mix.

Growing a positive, creative attitude to learning

Art & design has always been my thing. It’s what I like, it’s what I’ve grown up immersed in, I enjoy going to galleries and I enjoy creating. However, it’s hard to escape the ‘grammar school mindset’ – being completely focused on a straight pathway towards an end, without really thinking about the learning process. This is something Catherine (make:good’s Director/ my aunt!) said was a key part of work at make:good – how the process matters, how thinking and developing the process positively affects the end result.

After experimenting with graphics software I’d never used before, learning completely foreign tools for design, and still managing to create a model for one of make:good’s current projects, I found that creating work with an actual purpose, that wasn’t to just be stuck in a sketchbook and marked, was much more motivating and rewarding.

Frankly, this is something I wish would be put to practice in the school environment, and not just for creative subjects – actually being given a real-world brief and working to develop something beneficial. I feel like this would have a much more positive impact on students, and also help build skills that aren’t inherently self-absorbed like school currently teaches – instead of working competitively to get the best grade, working with a growth mindset to achieve a collective goal.

Moving on from thinking ‘GCSE’

Obviously, a growth mindset takes time to attain. I know I still haven’t got one. But I can see that going into the working world – even stepping up to A-levels – demands independence, something that wasn’t there so much during my GCSE period.

Coming to experience working in an office environment, I’ve recognised that independence encourages being able to think and re-think through problems, work around obstacles, and really try to overcome hesitance in the face of the unknown, just to prove you can. My involvement at make:good, while short, was enriching, and I know I’ll use what I’ve learned often in the future – be it tricks and cheats in Adobe Illustrator, or the capacity to try to develop my process for creating in my A-levels. I know I won’t forget my opportunity here – the first ever time I went to work.