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Interns, Trainees, Work Experience, and Who's Helping Whom

I finally reached the head of the queue in the coffee shop. A smiling barista apologised for the delay, and asked me what I wanted. I then noticed the dreaded “Trainee” badge proudly pinned to their fresh new shirt. Then it was all clear: the light bulb moment. That was why my wait had been extended by a minute or so, and that was why I was suddenly worried that my coffee wouldn’t be up to scratch.

Would it be cold? Would it be too strong? Too weak? The wrong colour? Perhaps it wouldn’t be coffee at all but, perish the thought, Tea. I watched as the trainee barista carefully made my coffee, and was ready to intervene should the process differ from what I’d normally expect. She really concentrated, and seemed to not only enjoy making the coffee but also made you feel appreciated as a patient customer.

The coffee arrived in pretty good shape, in pretty good time, steaming hot in a sleeved cup ready to go.

I tasted it, ready to be not satisfied as I practised my mask of mortification. Enjoy it? Well, why would I? It was made by a trainee. She must have got something wrong, surely? Yes she must have or she wouldn’t have been a trainee, would she? But it was a perfect cup of coffee.

In fact it was probably better than I’d previously bought from the coffee shop. You know the one, every High Street has one: that little independent that was never quite trendy enough but would love to be.

I got to thinking that sometimes trainees try harder, and often bring a different quality and fresh ideas to what they’re doing. Maybe they aren’t going through the motions, doing the required but no more as some more experienced staff might.

We often work with work placement kids in our film production company. And much like the coffee barista they are very attentive, focused, keen to learn, and always trying to do the best job possible. They often bring freshness to tasks that I’ve done numerous times, and on occasion they find a better and more efficient way of doing them.

Last year we were commissioned by the Lowewood Museum to film a “Takeover Day”, which is when kids take over the running of a museum for the day. It’s run by Kids in Museums and takes place in museums and galleries in the United Kingdom. We spent the day in the fantastic museum filming the kids running the museum where their work included front of house, tours, social media and interacting with the public, which can be seen in Takeover Day at Lowewood Museum.

After working with the kids, Museum’s Officer Carly Hearn said: “Maybe we’ll be running the museum a bit differently in the future. I think we can learn a lot from young people about how to make our museums vibrant places for more people to visit.”

What was fascinating was seeing the energy and spark that these kids applied to all the tasks. They found a way of working that utilized their passion, harnessed their energy, and made a virtue of their inexperience.

It’s that energy; it’s that freshness that trainees, interns, work placements or just keen new members of staff bring to a company, gallery, museum, production… It doesn’t matter whether it’s coffee, film production, construction, museums, galleries, or banking there’s always something new to add. Those ‘somethings’ that someone’s been doing like that for years without thinking about. That ‘something’ that may not be that important but when added together with all the other ‘somethings’ can make all the difference.

Maybe the next time you buy a coffee, or visit a museum and you see the dreaded word trainee you might wonder what difference they might bring to your coffee or what value to your museum visit. Of course we all had to learn, pick up new skills, and improve on our old ones so let’s all be a tad more understanding of others doing the same. Perhaps, it’s worth remembering that we all have to start somewhere and we don’t all start from the same place.

Naturally I’m sure to get stuck behind a learner driver now and will have only myself to blame for tempting such fates.

  • Fair enough Mat.

    99% of our trainees have been excellent and almost instantly became valuable members of the team. Film making is not quantum mechanics even if it's in the interest of many of us to assert that it is. Whilst the skills needed are very real, even car mechanics are more technical. It's all about aptitude, attitude and innate ability.

    2 years ago
  • If only more people felt like that, John. We are certainly entering a world where there are multiple tutorials, seemingly produced daily, that only seem to complicate and elevate rather than educate.
    This elevation has always existed as it helps people feel better about themselves and asserts not only their abilities but also their vulnerable self-worth.
    Of course, half the battle in whatever field you're (trainee or not) in is getting up, turning up, and actually starting.

    2 years ago
  • I don't expect any trainee to know anything - that's why they need training. Turning up, being willing, showing interest, taking instruction, etc are FAR more important. It is ALL about attitude. The industry sounds glamorous, but isn't, and many will fall at the first hurdle.

    2 years ago
  • If one were to lower the hurdle a touch would that help some in the long term who perhaps were never encouraged, or helped previously? It's sad that some basic work skills (such as timekeeping or even appropriate behaviour) are not shown to some at an early age. This puts them at a distinct disadvantage as the world and culture of work may be an alien environment where they fail through a lack of previous preparation that the more fortunate have been immersed in.

    2 years ago
  • It's not a fair world that's for sure. For those unfortunate souls who've been raised in a vulgar and ignorant environment especially.

    2 years ago
  • I have incredible patience for those training, especially on a film, with one exception: those that have just graduated films school and think they know it all. Seems that any crew derision can be tracked back to that film school P.A. unable to keep their complaining mouths shut. I've worked with many film school trainees, and most are hard working and truly want to learn, but those few...

    2 years ago
  • I imagine that many will relate to that Dan. There's some great film schools, whether they be universities or other institutions. Sadly others, including three year degree courses, are an absolute disgrace. I feel sorry for those youngsters who pick a short straw. The best courses also include attitude tutorials.

    2 years ago
  • Attitude tutorial in three words...

    'Be Very Humble'

    It doesn't necessarily mean being meek, voiceless, a robot, without ambition... It just means no matter how much you know (or think you know), you don't know it all and can still learn.

    I still learn, I will take suggestions from anywhere if they resonate with me. Runner has a good suggestion or valid point, I'll say so and make sure I attribute that idea too. I'll bet anyone making a real living in the industry still learns new stuff all the time. There's always another approach which may pay dividends.

    2 years ago
    • So true. It's all very obvious and self evident really. Grace is an amazing thing because it can't be pinned down. What is clearly graceful in one person may be obnoxious in another. It's a spiritual thing.

      2 years ago
    • So very much agree, Paddy. When people ask me why I like filmmaking so much, my answer is "there is always something new around the corner and you never stop learning." There is always room to improve in so many ways.

      2 years ago