Stephen was a successful businessman who ran his own publishing company.  The publications were all of the pop psychology, self-help, ‘you can do it if you really want to’ genre.  There were paperbacks about healthy eating, healthy exercising, healthy breathing, healthy relaxation, healthy sex and healthy brains.  The books, though actually read by only 10 per cent of those who bought them, sold well and Stephen’s company flourished. 

As you might guess from the appearance of six ‘healthy’s in one sentence, Stephen was a man with a social conscience.  It would be fair to describe him as a do-gooder.  He believed passionately in spreading the word about healthy this and that.  He gave talks at local clubs and schools and put leaflets through letterboxes.  He ran a website packed with articles about healthy living and a mini-Amazon facility so that customers could order his publications online.

Remarkably, he even practised what he preached.  Each day he was careful to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables and drink three litres of water.  He went for a brisk 30-minute walk each morning followed by 20 minutes of meditation.  He took 1000 milligrams of fish-oil concentrate each morning with his muesli and did Pilates exercises to strengthen his body and improve his balance.  Stephen came as close to being a paragon of virtue as mere mortals ever can.

One day Stephen went to an Education-Business Links Conference organised by Business in the Community.  One of the speakers waxed lyrical about the need to forge stronger links between education and business.  He urged every business to ‘adopt’ a local school and explore ways to help the staff and students understand, and better appreciate, the world of work.  The speaker was adamant that, despite businesses being society’s wealth creators, a career in business was often considered second best by students and that everyone should strive to improve work’s image.

Stephen came away determined to play his part.  He contacted the head teacher of his local comprehensive school and offered his services.  The head teacher was surprised and suggested that Stephen come into the school a few times a week to hear some of the junior children reading aloud.  Stephen explained that, much as he would enjoy this, he had a business to run.  Might there be some other way he could help that would not entail long absences from his desk?  Yes, came the reply, how about offering work experience for sixth formers?

So it came to pass that a young lad, Graham, arrived one Monday morning,  with a clipboard tucked under his arm.  In the weeks leading up to this event Stephen had grown increasingly apprehensive.  His staff made it clear that they thought this exercise largely a waste of time, another of Stephen’s fads, and that they were not prepared to be burdened with a student asking them naïve questions all week.  Stephen would have to take responsibility. 

Stephen visited the government’s website and, with sinking heart, read that students should benefit from work placements by:

  • Experiencing and understanding the world of work.
  • Applying knowledge and skills developed at school in a work-related context.
  • Appreciating the relevance of education to the world of work.
  • Developing skills, knowledge and confidence for adult life.
  • Becoming more aware of rights and responsibilities in the workplace.
  • Understanding employment opportunities and developing their personal career plans.


Daunting stuff.  As the week approached, Stephen worried about how to give the student a sufficiently meaningful experience.  He read and reread the briefing sheet that the school’s careers teacher had provided and drew up a plan for the week that contained ample variety.  It included an initial question- and-answer session about the company and its products, a short time with each member of the team finding out about their role, a couple of mini-projects which involved scrutinising the business plan and some of the company’s marketing literature, shadowing Stephen on some customer visits and observing the weekly team meeting.  The last thirty minutes of every day was to be spent looking back over the day’s activities and writing up a learning log and each new day was to start with a discussion of the lessons Graham had learned the day before.  And so on.

Once the plan had been drawn up, Stephen started to feel more confident.  In fact, he felt positively virtuous!  He was convinced he was about to provide a model week that would be an admirable advertisement for the much maligned world of work.  Stephen decided to volunteer to take a student every year. His wife advised him not to make any sort of long-term commitment until he had survived the week.

As it turned out, Stephen found Graham hard work.  He was very quiet and morose. Stephen spent the week meeting the boy more than half way. He longed for Graham to be livelier, and to show more enthusiasm for the company’s wonderful publications, each of which, Stephen assured him, could literally transform someone’s life. After work each evening, Stephen would feel quite drained.  But next morning he would recover and devote his day to a demonstration of how fascinating and varied working in a small publishing company could be.  

The week culminated with a final learning review and, as Stephen said goodbye and thanked Graham for all he’d done, he made a bad mistake.  He asked Graham whether he’d found the week interesting.  There was an ominous pause.  ‘No, not really’ said Graham.

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