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Kids, 'work' is the key word in your work experience

NOW that the Junior Cert results are out, and the detritus from the ensuing parties cleared up, it's time for the next step in Irish youngsters' rite of passage ... work experience.

As part of the Transition Year curriculum, our nation's little darlings have to get a two-week placement at the company of their choice to gain valuable insight into how the real world turns.

It's a good idea, and I'm a huge believer in first hand experience outweighing the classroom in so many ways, but here's the rub ... As the editor of Ireland's leading glossy, I get more than my share of applications from the younger generation of Carrie Bradshaws and Ugly Bettys, all wanting to see how a magazine is put together from close quarters.


I'm hugely encouraging of opening our doors to 15-year-olds. I know many kindly folk did the same for me as I crawled up the career ladder.

But parents -- especially mothers -- please read this and take heed ... It's fine for you to make the initial contact with a company on behalf of your child, but you must make them follow it up.

I don't know how many keen mothers I've had on to me over the years, telling me how little Grainne is dying to work in magazines. And she's mad about fashion. And if she could just come in and 'observe' all that goes on at Image, it'd be a dream come true.


Then Grainne shows up, looking like a surlier version of Cher Lloyd from last year's X Factor -- all backcombed hair, heavy make-up and Paul's Boutique bag -- only to sulk in a corner for the whole week before declaring it "wasn't what she thought it'd be" and how it's shocking how Dun Laoghaire hasn't got a Starbucks.

In the interim, I've tried to include the same child in editorial meetings, shown them how the magazine is designed and compiled, tried to find suitable tasks (I know some may be boring, but that's why we call it 'work' dear) and generally acted like a happy clappy Butlin's Red Coat for the week in an attempt to make things more enticing.

So, I'm busy trying to 'sell' the idea of doing my job, while they don't really seem particularly interested in learning at all.

One year, when doing the Christmas gift guide for Image, we had a photographer working in our little studio on the office premises. He was surrounded by bags of products so I asked two young work experience girls to go down and give him a hand. It seemed to be an exciting enough task, because I didn't see sight of the girls for the whole day.

At 4.30pm, when it was time for their mums to collect them, I went down to the studio to see the girls diligently writing on to large sheets of paper. "Oh great, thanks" I said, as I tried to take the paper from them. I was met with two quizzical looks as their fingers tightened around the sheets. "Eh, are these not for me?" I asked, sure that they'd kindly taken notes of all the products the photographer had been shooting all day.

"No", said one of the two, confidently, "these are our Christmas wish lists". And with that the pair swooshed down the stairs and out the door, leaving me agog with the photographer.

It seems the girls had decided this was the perfect chance, not to work, but to compile an inventory for Santa Claus, come December 25.

Having said that, we have had a few amazingly talented young girls come over our threshold. In a previous lifetime, I hold as my claim to fame, the fact that journalist Ciara Elliott started her career as a kid on work experience with me, ditto John Rocha's wonderful daughter Simone. Both were self-propelled though, and keen to learn.


And there's the rub. If kids have a genuine interest in the industry, even at the young age of 15, they'll work out how to get to you. And once in, they'll instinctively know when to ask for tasks, and when to just stay silent, look and learn.

And so, my rule of thumb is that while it's fine for mum or dad to get in touch, I'll always answer any request for work experience with the same answer. "Great. I'm thrilled little Grainne is interested in coming in. Have her get in touch with me and let's see what we can do." What happens next can only be determined by the child.