In the working world, some things never change
LAST WEEK I gave a talk to a group of graduate trainees who had just started working at a well-known bank in the City of London.
It is exactly three decades since I started out on a graduate training programme myself at another bank barely 100 yards down the road. Like these modern trainees, I spent an autumn on my backside listening politely to people who came to lecture us on this and that.
But now, being the one doing the talking, I kept thinking of my earlier self, and something odd occurred to me. The world of work is supposed to have changed beyond recognition since then, but actually it hasn’t. For graduate trainees, nothing of any importance has changed at all.
Admittedly, not everything is the same. A photograph of the 1982 intake at Morgan Guaranty in London would have shown eight men and one woman – me. We were all white and those who had not studied at Oxford had studied at Cambridge instead. In last week’s group, half were women, not all were white, and not all were Oxbridge either.
The technology is madly different too. Behind me last week was a screen ready for the PowerPoint slides that I had failed to supply. Everyone in the audience had a phone or a BlackBerry about them somewhere, promising rival entertainment. Back in 1982, we sat in front of flip charts and distracted each other with scribbled notes on scraps of paper. I remember listening with amazement to a man telling us that the bank had just bought something extraordinary: a facsimile machine.
Even the form of the talk I was giving – an informal chat over lunch – would have been unthinkable in the early 1980s. Back then, a lunch break was a lunch break: unless you were out getting drunk with clients, you downed tools for precisely one hour. And what we were munching on has changed – in 1982, I didn’t know such exotic food as bagels and samosas even existed.
Timing has changed a lot since then too. These modern graduates were on an induction programme that runs for three weeks. Ours lasted a whole year: it was thought that there was no point in hurrying the indoctrination process as we were expected to stay there for life. By contrast, no one expects these kids to stay – the latest research suggests that bright young things are engaged in a nonstop job search and last an average of 28 months in any one place (which is rather longer than I lasted at Morgan Guaranty, although that’s another story).