Our role as parents is to guide our children in life. As they get older, we let them make more and more decisions for themselves, hopefully so that in their adult life they are well equipped to manage independently. As part of this, experience is a great teacher, and often shapes what we learn and understand about the world.
One of the men-children is job hunting this year. Having successfully completed a TAFE course last year (much to our delight), he is now looking for an apprenticeship in his chosen trade – carpentry. It has been interesting to observe his approach to full-time job hunting. It started with “I need a holiday, it can wait until after January, no-one is working then”, to “You guys know a lot of people, you help me find a job.” I was suitably unimpressed, and set about educating my son about the various channels he would need to explore to find himself a job.
To be fair to said man-child, he has had a part-time job for several years, so it’s not that he is afraid of work – he just doesn’t LOOK for it willingly, somehow it always finds him!
Anyway, as luck would have it, an opportunity recently fell in his lap to potentially work for a builder, as an apprentice. It commenced with a few days “trial”, on a large construction site, and required us to drive him across to the other side of town for 3 days at an ungodly hour of the morning, which of course we were very agreeable to (he should have his licence in about 3 weeks we hope).
Naturally I was keen to know how the day went, and was shocked to hear that the guy he worked on site for had been quite nasty – abusing our son, swearing at him, calling him a “moron”, etc. The mother in me wanted to ring him up and abuse him right back that night, and tell him that workplace bullying was illegal. However, I took a deep breath, and we decided that perhaps on day two he would be in a better mood and not quite so awful. My son is amazingly resilient in these situations, seemingly thick skinned, but really just like a lychee – tough on the outside, but soft and gooey in the middle. So off he went on day two, which improved a little on day one, and our son found a friend in his other young apprentice, who was at pains to assist him to understand what the boss generally “cracked the shits” over. Again, I was appalled at the thought that these kids worked in such an environment of fear.
At the end of day two, I told my son he didn’t have to work day three if he didn’t want to. He again elected to return, telling me “maybe this is just how it is Mum”. I asked him if he thought that the 3 builders he had done work experience for would treat their apprentices the same way, which got him thinking, and I saw the light go on, as he realised it actually wasn’t normal. Anyway, off he went on day three, after his mother had another sleepless night angry at the employer and worried for my son (yes, I was in protective mother bear mode for 3 days).
I did seek the advice of some colleagues who assured me that yes, sadly, this behaviour on some building sites was pretty normal, and that apprentices were simply a form of cheap labour that allowed them to make margins, and they weren’t really focussed on teaching them – I was quite alarmed it’s fair to say (and clearly naive).
I saw my son briefly at the end of day three, and much to my dismay, heard of more abuse and bullying on site. To my sons absolute credit, he had actually stood up for himself several times on-site, to explain to this IDIOT that he was the one making mistakes, not my son. Clearly apologising was not in this man’s nature! If the man had crossed my path that night, it would not have been pretty. I apologised to my son for finding him the job (I really wished I hadn’t), and reassured him that not all builders were like this. He had been left “hanging” for a text message over the weekend, to let him know if any more work would be required the following week. I asked him if he wanted to work for him, and could see him wavering. So I told him we would rather he was unemployed than work for an arsehole like this bloke.
It took all my nagging to finally get him to send “Builder of the Year” a text message that weekend, explaining that he wouldn’t be working for him again. My draft was carefully scripted to say he was going to look elsewhere (read between the lines, I’d rather have no job than work for you pal), but my diplomatic son insisted that saying he had found another job was certainly nicer, and probably meant he might be paid. As to the latter matter, we also sent a follow up text message about payment for the 3 days work – due this week. Trust me, if the money doesn’t hit my son’s bank account, rest assured our friend will wish he had never heard of me – as I will pursue him to the end of the earth (and VCAT) to see my son paid for 3 days work.
So what has the above taught us? It’s taught my son that not everyone is nice to work for, but that doesn’t mean you have to take it. It’s taught his mother that she must learn to bite her tongue, and not take control, but be there to offer guidance along the way (and assert her influence very strongly when required). It’s also taught my son that it’s okay to stand up for yourself, and to walk away if you want to. And to demand what is rightfully yours.
So where does that leave us? Back to square one. I have armed my son with all the information he requires to job hunt, had him send numerous emails to relevant contacts, sought advice from friends about where to look for work and showed him where to find apprenticeship jobs on seek.com.au. As I explained to him the other day, you are the horse and I have given you the water. I can’t make you drink it, but if you don’t, then you won’t find a job!!!
So begins the next lesson in life…..I will keep you posted. And if you should hear of a NICE builder looking for a great young apprentice, who was top of his class, and is most definitely NOT afraid of hard work, please let me know.