I was puzzled. Here I was, slaving away on a subbing shift. And there was this bloke sitting nearby reading the paper and drinking coffee all day.
What was his secret? Was he the editor? I found out later – he was on work experience. What a waste of time and talent – asking someone in and not giving anything to do.
Students arrive for work attachments with lots to offer – but often end up doing little. Here’s how to make the most of them:
â€¢ Show respect. They have come to work – for nothing. You’re doing them a favour – but they are doing you one.
â€¢ Don’t underestimate them. Some are competent reporters. Many will know how to use the internet and computers better than you.
â€¢Have an initial meeting. Find out their experience and skills, and familiarise them with your procedures and staff. Then they won’t ask so many questions.
â€¢Give them a computer and a phone. Why invite them if you cannot offer basic facilities?
â€¢Don’t treat them as slaves. They will be prepared to make the tea – but make sure that’s not all they do.
â€¢Plan their work, so they don’t sit doing nothing or get passed from one person to another.
â€¢Make it interesting. Let them shadow someone different every day.
â€¢Give them meatier jobs if they can cope.
â€¢Appoint someone who can answer questions, take them to lunch and monitor them.
â€¢Ask their opinion – they may have perspectives on stories and procedures.
â€¢ Develop your training skills – if you haven’t got the best out of someone on work experience, it might be your own fault.
â€¢ Use attachment to talent scout.
â€¢ Be gentle – you may scream at your staff, but not at attachment trainees.
â€¢ Conduct an ‘exit interview’. Give honest, constructive feedback.
â€¢ Fill out their paperwork before they leave – trainees may ask employers to complete a form.
Some publications take work attachment seriously and reap the rewards.
Dave King, assistant editor of the Daily Echo, Southampton, is about to become editor of the Swindon Advertiser. He said: ‘I had a bad experience of work experience at my hometown paper in West London when I was ignored and left to read the papers all week. I vowed I would do my best to ensure students I deal with came away with something worthwhile.
‘We try our best to ensure even the least-motivated students get a good experience.”
Ian Wood, assistant editor of the Manchester Evening News, got his first job as a cub reporter with the Evening Chronicle in Newcastle after a week’s work experience.
He said: ‘We are inundated with requests. I only accept one each week and insist they are already on an NCTJ-recognised course.
‘We expect them to arrive with a good knowledge of our paper and with several story ideas. It is stressed they must adopt a proactive approach and they are warned that it is easy to be overlooked in a busy newsroom.”