Work Experience? Cheers Miss.

  • May 14, 2024
  • Reading time: 3 min

By Jon Lonsdale, CEO, Publicis Pro

It’s GCSE and A-Level season, and it’s reminded me that I’d like to talk more about work experience.

Good old-fashioned work experience.   

My life changed around Easter 1991, thanks to Mrs Hawkins, my history teacher.  Although I didn’t realise this at the time. 

I was a kid at school who worked hard, was OK at most things, but didn’t get that excited in anything. I took a new-fangled GCSE called Modular Studies, where we got to do things like graphic design, media studies and business studies. I took it because it sounded different and a bit more interesting than geography. I also took history, mainly because I got on with the teachers; Mr Hook, who ran the footie team, and Mrs Hawkins who was always quietly kind and a wicked teacher.

I loved the course – talking about journos, newspapers, the telly felt glamorous, different and interesting. And I heard that unis were starting to offer Media Studies as a course.  Bingo.  Mrs Hawkins must have got wind of this, and one day she took me aside to tell me that a family friend worked at Radio WM in Birmingham and she could probably arrange some work experience at a “real life radio station” during my Easter break.

So, instead of a lie-in that Easter holidays. I got the early train into Birmingham with my dad’s A to Z and found my way to Pebble Mill Studios (RIP!).  There I worked as a research assistant on one of the afternoon news shows at WM, arranging guests, making tea for the reporters, typing out the production notes.  I remember s**tting myself the night before, not knowing what to do at lunchtime, wearing a shirt and tie when nobody else did and generally feeling terrified most of the time.  

But I did it and I remember it vividly.  I remember realising you that you could actually be paid to do something that was creative and fun, if you put the effort in.  

Because of this.  Here at Publicis Pro we have always, and always will when I’m in charge, say yes to work experience for people if we can physically do it.  I think more companies, and definitely agencies, should do the same.

I don’t mean just apprenticeships of longer paid internships – these have a real value of course, but aren’t always practical for companies or possible as they have to go into a P&L and in these times every penny counts.  I just mean free, good old-fashioned work experience and shadowing.  

I’ve just seen what a couple of weeks of this shadowing has done for one such young man recently who came to work with us, and his thank you note has reminded me about Mrs Hawkins. 

He’s now realised:

  • He DEFINITELY wants to work in an agency
  • He wants to specialise in motion design thanks to chats with James King our CD
  • He needs a great CV – we proofed it for him 😊
  • He should be on LinkedIn as well as TikTok  
  • He wants more work experience this Summer to get another perspective
  • He should set goals in life and have a plan, thanks to my amazing colleague Nicola Pestell
  • He can have a career in creating things for money with nice people

But he’s also had to give up a lie-in, commute for the first time, be on a Teams call, make tea on the pod, sort a laptop out with IT on his first day, hit a deadline, think what to wear, feel terrified and outside his comfort zone, try not to yawn when he’s bored in a meeting, think of questions quickly, and just be in an office environment.

All because we offered him the chance to come in for a week or two and learn about work when he asked.

I have Mrs Hawkins to thank for a lot of what happened in my working life and the way it went.  Cheers Miss.

So as our 16 and 18 year olds battle with exams over the next few weeks, let’s remember how scary the adult world of work seemed when we were that age.  And then do our bit when we can to welcome young people into our business lives for a week or two. 

Because amazing things will happen, that literally last a lifetime.  

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