Felipe, Malin and Niko set out monday morning for Gordon Riggs Garden Centre. We met manager Tim at the front desk, shaking hands and bidding us welcome. The students got uniforms and name tags. Student Tim didn't join this group until tuesday as he was supposed to work at the Spar Supermarket where they unfortunately had no clue that we would be comming. That's what happens sometimes when everything is planned via phone and e-mail. Luckily, managers and business owners in Hebden Bridge and Todmorden are very kind and helpful in situations like these.
At the end of the day when I picked the students up outside the garden center, they complained that the work had been very monotonous. All they had been doing was to plant different flowers into pots for sale. I listened to them and responded that it was too early to start complaining since it was only the first day. The students also complained that they didn't have breaks enough. I assured them that one hour lunch break is very generous and that they at any time were allowed to go to the lavatory or so. Manager Tim also had said on the first day before work started that the students should walk around the store and tell him if there were any departments they would be especially interested in. Neither of them had done so. Also they had not spoken with their contact at the garden center about their troubles. I encouraged them to do so.
Next day, Tim had decided to join the group in the garden center. Faces were not enthusiastic when I dropped them off in the morning. From mid-day our phones began to ring regularly. The students were not satisfied with the planting situation. It was too boring and they didn't get to speak English enough. I told them to endure the day so that we could talk about the situation at home in Mankinholes.
In the evening we had our meeting and I asked if anyone had spoken to the manager or staff about their troubles. The answer was "no". It would have been a great opportunity to speak english though. The girls
did not want to go back, but the boys just wanted me to talk to their contact person and make him understand that they needed some variation in the work.
It is always a balance to listen to the students' troubles and keeping in focus the whole meaning of a work experience. I told them that part of this experience is to learn to communicate and solve ones own problems, not run away from them: First you need to talk to your collegues about your trouble, then if that doesn't work you go to your nearest boss or manager. If you do not talk to the people at your
workplace they don't know how you are feeling. They can't read your mind. If all of this does not work out then come to me and I will help you with the dialogue.
We agreed that they should continue the next day and that I should come and visit and talk to Scott, the contact person there. Scott showed me around and showed me the students' work. I was very
surprised how beautiful their flower potpourri looked. But I could also understand that it really doesn't matter much what plants you are planting – the procedure is the same.
I talked to Scott about the need for variation. The girls would be sent out in front with the customers to be able to speak more English. But Niko and Malin did not want to stay and therefore I gave into
their wishes of finding them a new work experience place each. The only thing I required was for them to finish the day at the garden center and write a letter of resignation to manager Tim at home in the evening. I also demanded that they should finish their log forms for the garden center and fill out a whole new one for the next two days. The girls agreed on this and were pleased.
Thursday and Friday Malin worked at Hartley's Tea Room in Todmorden speaking a lot of English, and Niko worked at the Bear Shop selling organic products, spices and so on, also speaking a lot of English.
I think Gordon Riggs Garden Centre is a wonderful work experience place for teenagers, but of course it is also very important that ”unhappy” students can affect their own situation. I believe we followed a
healthy procedure balancing the respect for the quality of our work experience project, our hosts willingness to social responsibility and the students' feelings of being able to affect their own situation and motivation.
Bad experiences are not always bad. I think we all learned a lot from this. That is the reason why we do this. The girls got two experiences in one – it is a win/win situation.