Welcome to a factory with no fringe benefits

12th January 2001 at 00:00
The budding scientist decided against teaching as a career. Did he make the right choice?

With the shining morning satchel of a BSc (biology), the temptation to become a teacher of science had been strong. Resistance came in the form of an unbeatable offer from private industry and hence a launch into a career in food technology. How fares our brave new food technologist? Would he have done better to have entered teaching?

Day one: Instructions to arrive 1.75 hours before the factory opens in order to be inducted. Unable to finish this in the time allotted, our biologist learns that induction will continue every Thursday for 12 weeks. This will mean absence from work all afternoon and for an additional three hours in the evenings after the factory has closed.

Day two: The first project allocated to our putative food technologist is to ensure the safety of all genetically modified foods for pig consumption - design to be completed within 12 months, no budget stated. To achieve this, our infant scientist has an empty office. A kindly soul adjacent passes the information that "for equipment, see the section head but don't make a fuss as it will affect your survival here".

The section head is impressed. Taking the initiative, BSc's list of necessities includes a desk, computer, flip chart, laboratory access, a farm, a few packets of seeds and a pig or two. The last four are impossible, but the others can be obtained on application to the finance director, who will authorise these if the unit leader signs a docket, which he will do if the research director agrees, which he does, provided the section head states that the purchases are necessary. So, no hope there then. But BSc is in luck. The research director can, though, offer a research assistant who can speak only Japanese.

The day flies past. The staff canteen is suggested as a no-go area since, according to the regulars, the menu rises no higher than beefburgers and you have to eat them in company with the shop-floor workers. But they're bright shop-floor workers, just looking for someone after work to prepare them for the national biology Olympiad (Wednesdays) and the intra-factory football tournament (Saturday mornings), which leaves three evenings for the management-team meetings after work. For any queries, there is a mentor but beware what you ask as he writes your promotion reports.

Later our hero prepares to depart as the factory closes. The adjacent kindly soul prevents our hero's flight. "Psst. When you get home,don't forget to write your daily review of what you have achieved today, produce the written plans for tomorrow, put them in a file to be kept here for anyone to assess at any time and then check through the calculations you made on the plans today. I assume you have your own computer and software at home."

Day three: Our food technologist begins his project. Deep in high-level thought, he would have missed lunch had not his mentor reminded him that this was one of the two days on which his lunch break is replaced with car park duty. This is to ensure no personnel are lurking, smoking, drug taking or committing other misdemeanours in the vehicular area. No use to protest that a biology degree is no preparation for car parking duty nor that the organisation is wasting money by employing a highly-paid food technologist as a surveillance officer, nor even that successive Factory Acts, beginning in the 19th century, recognised the need for an employee's lunch break.

To catch up on high-level thinking, our hero works through his afternoon tea break. His guardian angel reminds him to collect the reports for checking before he leaves for home that evening so they can be returned the next day as soon as the factory opens. "What reports?" requests our trainee scientist. "Senior managers write reports on each of the workers responsible to you. You have to add your own comments to each one, check what the senior staff have written, including the spelling and punctuation, and return the reports to them, asking them to correct any errors."

Can this really be how industry treats its new graduate employees you ask yourself? Well, no, it definitely is not - but it is how schools treat new teachers (and continuing ones too).

All you have to do is change factory to school in the above scenario and any NQT would recognise it. But what really happened to BSc (biology)? Yes, he did enter an industrial career which started with:

* a golden hello * a salary pound;6,000 more than NQTs * a day's welcome to get to know the company six weeks before taking up the job * three days' induction within the working hours of8am-4pm * cost of petrol to induction sessions paid * a two-year circumnavigation of all the company's departments while he discovered which area would suit him best * personal desk and PC * no work at home. Correction - almost no work at home. Each evening he cooks, washes and irons because his partner is an NQT with no time for such luxuries.

The writer wants to remain anonymous


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