There are some upsides to my job though, and just occasionally I get the opportunity to get involved with something that makes me feel as though I'm not entirely wasting my time. As I did last year, I'm organising my department's involvement in a big work experience scheme. This is where 100 students aged between 16 and 24 join us for two weeks and take part in various activities to help them to build their experience and to understand what life working in a big company is like. Most people apply online and are either still at school studying for their A-Levels or are undergraduates looking for a bit of work experience to bolster their CVs. We also receive people from other backgrounds too: NEETS who are Not in Education, Employment or Training who are sent to us by the job centre and we also get guys sent to us from Social Services just coming out of the Care system.
We've got eight in our department this year, with five coming via applications, one from the job centre and two from Social Services. It's this last category that require the closest supervision: it's not that there is any reason why they wouldn't be as clever or committed as any of the other students, it's just that they come from such a different background that they tend to find it a much harder adjustment to make to spending time working in a professional office environment. For the ten days these guys are with us, about half of their time is spent as a group doing training and coaching exercises: team building, training in employability skills like interviewing and filling out application forms... that kind of thing. The rest of their time is spend in department, and this year I've organised a load of activities and interactive sessions to try and show the breadth of what we do, from touring the data centres and test labs, to doing interactive sessions on Twitter and how we might better use social media as a company. I've had some of the more junior members of the department helping me out with the sessions, and it's been very rewarding to watch how good the sessions are and to see how quickly the students come out of their shells and really start to get involved. We can't reach everyone, and some will always be wanting to be somewhere else, but if we can reach any of them at all, then it's surely an exercise worth doing.
I have to admit though, when I went off to Glastonbury last week, I was a little worried about the guys from Social Services. They're basically good kids, I think, but they've been in trouble before and spent some time in young offenders institutes and one of them has some learning difficulties. They want to change and to learn, but they are so different to the other guys that I was worried what might happen, especially when one began egging the other to tell him what he had done to get locked up. He was reluctant to explain and kept saying that he was trying to change and didn't do that kind of thing any more, but you could see the other guys getting more wary of them by the minute. Would they settle down and do the best they can without causing any trouble? Would the other guys treat them any differently? I was really pleased to see how much they had come on in the few days I was away. All of the students are much more comfortable and confident, but the biggest change is in the kids from Social Services, and one of them in particular really seems to be gaining some confidence and some sense of self-worth. He's got another couple of days with us, but if he continues to grow at this rate, then hopefully the whole exercise will have been totally worth it.
Youth unemployment in this country is now something like 21%. That's an astonishing figure. There's probably never been a more difficult time for young people under the age of twenty to find a job. The more I work with people on this sort of thing, them more I realise that companies like mine need to do more. This Work Experience scheme is great, and we also take on apprentices and things like that, but I think we can do more. Our definition of talent is far too narrow: we insist on things like clean criminal records, passes in English and Maths, the ability to pass some psychometric tests and other things like that. The result is that we basically always recruit the same type of people, and this means we have an unhealthy lack of diversity in the workplace and are casting whole swathes of people onto the scrapheap for fairly arbitrary reasons that may have little bearing on their ability to do the job. I think we can and must change this, and increasingly I think I can help to change it and I'm looking into how we can cast our net wider and perhaps partner up with local schools in some of the poorer areas of Nottingham to give people a chance.
My job might be largely pointless and mostly unfulfilling, but in this at least I think I can do something properly worthwhile. I've spent most of my adult life thinking that I was coldly analytical and didn't really give a damn about people. I've belatedly realised that this is nonsense, and that actually the truth is that the people are the only thing I really do care about.
Better late than never, I suppose.