Work experience stitch-ups that need unpicking

Blade Runner’s replicants would struggle to cope with a day’s worth of email

Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard in Blade Runner: Needs a new test for replicants

Harrison Ford as Rick Deckard in Blade Runner: Needs a new test for replicants

Mon, Aug 4, 2014, 01:01

In the 1980s sci-fi film Blade Runner, carefully crafted scenarios are read aloud to suspected androids called “replicants” while a machine monitors their emotional response. Reacting too coolly, or not at all, confirms their robot identity.

But for a story that’s meant to take place in 2019, it’s a wonder that Harrison Ford’s character, investigator Rick Deckard, does not just open his inbox and read out emails to suspects. Getting through a day’s worth of messages without a single huff or puff would, after all, be completely inhuman.

About a month ago I had my own humanity confirmed when the following email from a higher-up landed in my inbox: “Are you able to help next week with my [young relative] who is on work experience? Would love her to meet you and see how you approach things . . . My assistant has the schedule.”

Steam emanated from my ears. Much like spontaneity, nepotism is something I’ve found I’m quite unable to tolerate – even in moderate, GCSE-level doses. Work experience leads to internships, and internships to shiny careers. And I’d rather spend time with those who have gone through some competitive process to which I can relate.

But given the sender of the offending email, I considered my response carefully. It would have to be more measured than I felt. So I prepared to say “no” in my very best British. I may be American, but I’ve lived in the UK for more than 12 years, and I’d like to think I know a thing or two about how to disagree productively with the natives.

Oddball

“I’m the most oddball journalist on this floor,” I wrote to decline. “Are you sure you don’t want her with someone more . . . representative?”

I exhaled. But I shouldn’t have. “The future is going to be oddball-shaped,” came the reply. I had failed. This was getting uncomfortable.

Perhaps I should have said “no” in overly enthusiastic American-ish. Blatant lies accompanied by implausible amounts of energy are a guaranteed way to put off most nationalities, but the British most especially. “Sorry! I’d love to but just can’t! All booked up next week! I hope she has a fantastic time!”

But it was a bit too late for that. I turned to colleagues for advice. Surely they would understand, knowing as they do that I mentor at a local Southwark school, much like I did in New York City when I lived there. Why allow nepotism while simultaneously trying to help students who don’t have the benefit of family connections? It’s simply self-defeating.

But I’d started to notice that attitudes on the use of family and social networks to get young people work experience seem to be an easier way of determining the decade someone was born in than asking when the television series Battlestar Galactica aired. The reactions from colleagues who gave the answer “in the 1980s or something” to the Battlestar question were more likely to be dismissive. “It’s only work experience,” they’d say. The main objection instead concerned the time they’d have to spend hand-holding a clueless teenager who, in many cases, didn’t want to be there either.

By contrast, younger colleagues, who responded to the Battlestar query by asking whether I meant the original series or the 2004 reboot, were quicker to sympathise.

Throwing CVs into the void

Almost everyone acknowledged that having kids of one’s own plays a role, as does cultural background. But, in general, it seems to hold that the degree of distaste is inversely correlated with the number of years since one’s first graduate-level job. Memories of throwing CV after CV into the void that is the online application form makes a person a bit more attuned to the importance of certain steps on the career ladder.

Back at work, the higher-up was having second thoughts after I amplified my objections. It was declared that my “oddball” status meant it would be disappointing if I didn’t have strong views, which possibly translated to: “I accept your refusal, and maybe I was wrong.”

Colleagues of mine were less fortunate, having failed to say “no” in any dialect of English, and so were roped in in my place.

In an unlucky twist of fate, the relative ended up sitting next to me for a couple of days while expending the time of colleagues. And, to be fair, I heard some good things about her. I wonder if she enjoyed her week and got something out of it. Most especially, I wonder if she would have made more of the opportunity if she had made it here on her own merits. But then that is something none of us will ever know. – (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014)

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