Ask Timpo

Every summer, we get lots of requests from students looking for work experience. But they can be a major distraction to staff and some placements don’t seem bothered whether they’re here or not. Is it really worthwhile?Your question has made me think. Work experience is a wonderful link between school and business, but the summer exodus seldom works well. If teachers view it as a welcome week’s break from difficult teenagers and companies are simply ticking a social responsibility box, not much will be achieved. Making an unwilling pupil watch people at work is a waste of time.

Timpson has a specially designed student training programme (mainly for colleagues’ children and close relatives). We interview the pupils first, tactfully only taking those with the right attitude. They work in a shop following extracts from our apprentice scheme starting with health and safety. They serve customers and cover basic key cutting, watch repairs and engraving (shoe repairing involves evil-looking revolving cutters that terrify caring parents). Each night pupils take home their handiwork to show to parents (an engraved badge or successfully copied key). Finally, they are presented with a framed certificate.

We welcome about 25 students a year and at least one becomes a future full-time employee. (One of our best managers discovered Timpson through work experience). Your letter has prompted me to look for more students with the determination and personality to learn from experience.

I’ve seen a great candidate but he has a problem with body odour. How on earth do we raise this issue? I fear it’s something he suffers from constantly, but he’s got so much going for him otherwise.

When looking for a new job, most people try to be at their best – best suit and best behaviour. Sweaty nerves are no excuse. BO would stop me offering a second interview, but you blocked out the smell and saw a star employee in the making. I advise caution. You might be able to live with it, but will your colleagues cope and will he put off your customers?

You must have the courage to offer the advice he desperately needs. BO is a tricky subject. Gentle hints about deodorant are tactful but the subtle approach seldom works. Eventually someone (probably you) must tell him he smells (you must rate him highly to go through such an ordeal!). But blunt advice is not enough, a second interview is essential. If you have the slightest sniff of doubt, don’t take him on. But if he passes the test you may have found a future superstar and will probably have improved the lives of his close friends and relations.

After 25 years in the corporate world, I’m thinking of training as a teacher. How would you “stress-test” the idea?

Be realistic. Teaching is not an easy option. Do you, at the age of 50, want to spend all week with a class of 30 children? Perhaps 30 teenagers!

A lot has changed since you were at school. As a primary school governor, I have discovered schools are full of KPIs and school policies. The head will probably be paranoid about SATs results and the next OFSTED inspection. The curriculum is dictated by central government, while sport and school trips are controlled by risk assessments.

Parents and pupils have much more power. Controlling the class is a big part of the job but parents still think their offspring are angelic and expect miracles.

Still keen? Then perhaps you have the guts and determination to be a good teacher. Schools need people like you. Good luck.

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