- humping heavy boxes from the warehouse (no wheeled cages or H&S guidance those days)
- keeping records of all goods removed from warehouse
- removing existing stock from the shelves
- cleaning the empty shelves
- dusting all the tins/packages
- printing and attaching price stickers to each and every item (no bar-coding those days)
- loading the new stock at the back of the shelf
- then restacking the older stock to the front of the shelf
- ensuring shelf price labels were correct
Everything had to be pristine, facing forward, like soldiers awaiting inspection. However mundane this work was, it required discipline and attention to detail. Not to mention that we were expected to get on with the job and do it in record time. Sometimes we had to reconfigure entire aisles of shelving. Back-breaking work.
On some shifts I'd have to bag up potatoes - weighing and bagging for hours on end. Other weeks I'd be on the checkouts handling lots of cash and occasionally cheques - no credit card swiping those days and no bar code scanning. Everything done by hand and mental agility. The rote-learned times tables came in very handy.
Occasionally I'd have to mop spillages or clean the glass windows/doors. I truly didn't mind. It never occurred to me that this was "not my job"... it was work.
To earn extra cash I used to volunteer for overnight stocktaking duties. Now that was REALLY mundane. All done by physical counting with pen and paper and lots of mental arithmetic.
Was this slave labour? OK, I wasn't doing it for free; I think I earned around £1 for each Saturday shift. But, hard work though it was, I definitely didn't regard it as slave labour.
Did I gain any transferrable skills? You bet your life I did!
- I learned to get out of bed on a Saturday morning - which for a 14/15yo is no mean feat!
- I had to be tidy and presentable (washing and ironing my own uniform).
- I learned to communicate with my peers and with customers of all ages.
- I learned to be punctual and reliable - no phoning in sick.
- Most importantly, I acquired a strong work ethic... I learned that if you want something in life, you have to work for it, and that requires effort and persistence.
So despite the recent furore about Tesco and the other supermarket giants not paying their work experience candidates, those who were given the opportunity to enlist as "slave labour" could have gone on to permanent roles with their respective employers or at least have gained some experience and transferable skills to add to their CVs, improved their self-confidence and become more employable. Those with intelligence and initiative could even perhaps have joined management training schemes.
All work is honourable - however menial. And all experience is valuable whether paid or unpaid. Our characters are built on our experiences, as is our employability.