All walks of life

6th August 1999 at 01:00
Raymond Ross asks students the best way to earn some summer dosh.

Everyone recalls their first wage, or if they are of a certain age, their first wage packet. For many it came with that first summer job while still at school.

Coupled with the crisp new notes, the jingle of coins and the anticipation perhaps of a weekend on the tear came the inevitable economic downturn when they had to hand over their wages to their mother to help pay for their keep.

That was a statutory obligation in my day. And God help the one who tried to hand over what was quaintly known as "a burst pay packet". Watching two thirds of your hard earned cash disappear before your eyes was a painful rite of passage, though you maybe learned to value what you were left with that wee bit more. Or maybe it was still just spent it willy-nilly.

Whatever the case, it now seems the good old days of the parental reinvestment tax have passed into oblivion along with bus conductors, Boeing 707s and pounds, shillings and pence, if the new Secondary 6 class at Firrhill High School in Edinburgh is anything to go by.

They are an enterprising lot. Of the 80 pupils who moved up to sixth year in June, no fewer than 50 have summer jobs. Firrhill does pride itself on what deputy head John Brown calls a "culture of education for work". The pupils, however, admit to their motivation being a little more low falutin'. They call it being "cash strapped" or the need for "cally dosh" in the New Reekie parlance. Strapped for personal cash, many will take even the "cheesiest" of jobs, as they call them. Of the pupils I spoke to the "cheesey" job par excellence was clearly indicated for one pupil by peer group guffaws and squeals of disbelief when he admitted to landing a sales assistant's post at Debenhams store on Princes Street. Big store or not, Debenhams just ain't "cool" with the kids.

But of the 40 pupils I spoke to - only 20 of whom would admit officially to having summer employment - only one young innocent said he would hand over any of his wages to his parents. Another said she would "if asked".

Times have changed, I was reminded by the pupils drawn from this mixed catchment area of high-rise council flats and leafy suburban avenues. "It's our money", "We work for it," they continued unprompted. And I was soon educated into the notion that giving those who brought you up something tangible in return was weirdly outdated and positively absurd.

Most of the jobs the pupils had accessed, as they say, were in retail or fast food outlets. Wages averaged around pound;3 to pound;3.50 an hour, the lowest coming in at pound;2.50 for a holiday relief shop assistant with Spar and the highest for an agency kitchen porter at between pound;4 and pound;6 an hour, depending on which hotel or restaurant he was sent to.

Most of the summer jobs were holiday extensions of the pupils' part-time or weekend employments. They were simply upping their hours for the summer.

From the school's point of view all work experience can have positive educational outcomes, says John Brown: "Part-time and summer jobs help with motivation, self-esteem and work rate and it's good for the pupils' CVs. Job discipline feeds back into the school - except of course during prelims or exam time. You have to get the right balance."

You also have to get the right job - or at least the right job title. One enterprising lad was an After Sales Administratory Advisor for Mercedes Benz. He wasn't on huge commission and he didn't have a seat on the board. He cleaned and polished the cars at the showroom before customers took delivery.

Another was a Twilight Assistant at Makro, or a shelf-stacker as they were called in my time.

Then there's the Hut Girl. She's the one who greets you, shows you to your table and gives you your cutlery at a Pizza Hut.

Or the Turn Down at the

Sheraton. She's a bit like the tooth fairy, only she really exists.

When next you enter a hotel room to find your bed turned down

for you and a chocolate on the

pillow, you'll know the Turn Down has been.

But some jobs do seem to have more responsibility. Graeme McDonald glories in the title of Service Consultant at a McDonald's burger joint. His job is to motivate staff and encourage good service. He achieves this through leading by example and by "shouting at them".

His equivalent at Burger King is called a Supervisor (strangely enough on exactly the same rate of pound;4.02 per hour). In this post, 16-year-old Adam Baird is responsible for 12 people. "I've been working there part-time since last September and was promoted a month ago," he says. "So far I've had no discipline problems. The key is to organise well."

Supervising staff is one thing. Dealing with the public is another. Head girl Bryony Vandepeear is a sales assistant at Nine West shoe shop on Princes Street. She can earn up to pound;4.50 an

hour with commission, the

downside being "complaining


"We get quite a few," she says. "They're usually people who're bringing shoes back because they say they're not the right size. I think people like to moan. You just have to be polite and give them what they want.

"Sometimes people have worn them and just decide they don't like them. I've seen shoes returned where it's pretty obvious the woman has deliberately broken the heel just to get the money back. If it's too obvious they don't get away with it. And if it's a really difficult customer you pass them on to your supervisor.

"But it's a great job. I've been doing it for two years, part-time and summers. I'd give it seven out of 10 for job satisfaction. You're always well supported."

"People are rude," says Cheryl Wood, shop assistant at Next. "It's a good job but annoying people do come back to change goods. They're annoyed because it's a waste of their time and they let you know it. It's not that they shout or anything. It's the tone of voice that gets you."

Kitchen porter Bill Buchanan loves his work because of the good money. But "grumpy chefs" are the bane of his life, though he says he's lucky because he is agency staff and never around the one kitchen long enough "to get really picked on".

"If the pupils are working for real, if they're working for money, there's value to the whole experience," Mr Brown says. "And part of that experience is choosing how to spend what they've earned. Work brings responsibility and they have to learn to be responsible with money too."

Funnily enough, that's exactly what my mother used to say as she was breaking open my wage packet.

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