Factory Boy: My First ‘Graduate’ Job Epic Fails
Jack Collins, the Managing Editor of AllAboutCareers, didn’t walk straight out of university and into his dream job. Like many university students, who choose to focus on studying and socialising rather than thinking about their career, he had to pay his dues before getting a graduate-level job…
I had just graduated with a degree in English Language and Literature from King’s College London, which, at the time, was ranked amongst the top 25 universities in the world. Pretty good, I thought. Consequently, after an intense final year of exams and essays, I felt like I deserved a rest. I hung out in London with my friends and even went to Tuscany for a bit. However, after my well-deserved break, I returned back to my family home where I foolishly attempted to extend my life of leisure for as long as possible.
I was still recovering from my ‘revision hangover’ and decided to spend the majority of my time mooching around, going off on countryside bike rides and playing Virtua Tennis on my Sega Dreamcast (retro gaming all the way). After a short while though, the final instalment of my student loan started to deplete rapidly. Before I knew it, I had developed a serious cash flow problem.
Welcome to the real world!
When you’re lacking cash, there’s only one thing to do: get a job. Unfortunately, my sloth-like enjoyment of the early summer months meant that I’d already missed out on tons of summer job opportunities. I stalked the streets of Nottingham, armed with a CV and a cheap suit.
I visited a bunch of different recruitment agencies in my hunt for temp work, but I was routinely dismissed by each po-faced consultant who gave me a metaphorical middle finger when they discovered that I didn’t have “six months of office experience.”
Down & out in the East Midlands
Tired, sweaty, dejected and desperate to destroy the computer-generated Tim Henman on Virtua Tennis, I returned home without a single job prospect. At this point, my charming, yet evil, parents suggested contacting some of the factories in our village to see if they had any jobs going.
This didn’t sound like the American Pie II-esque summer that I had in mind, but my pockets were empty and I was at a loose end. So I thought sod it. Why not give it a whirl?
I phoned the bathroom towel factory first. Nothing doing. I tried the cheese factory next. No dice. Finally, third time (un)lucky, I dialled the number of the local clay pigeon factory. After a few rings, somebody answered with a familiar East Midlands accent:
Receptionist: “Claaay Pidg’un Cump’oneh!”
Me: “Hi there, my name is Jack Collins, I wondered if you had any jobs available?
Receptionist: “Aye lad! Someone’ll call yer back in ten minutes. Alreet?”
Me: “Ok, great. Thank you.”
The telephone interview
Around five minutes later, I received a call from the production manager:
Production manager: “Right then, Jack, you’ve got the job. Can you start today?”
Me: “Erm…I’m afraid I’m busy today (I lied). Would it be possible to start tomorrow?”
Production manager: “Fine. See you tomorrow at 6am. Tarah!”
The quickest telephone interview ever? I think so.
The first day
My first day at the clay pigeon factory was the longest day of my life. I arrived at 6am, as the sun was beginning to poke its head out from beneath a duvet of grey cloud. As soon as I stepped inside, two steel-toe-capped hiking boots were thrust into my hands. I pulled them on with enthusiastic gusto, before being directed onto the factory floor.
After briefly meeting the rest of the team, I began my working life as a ‘pigeon packer’. Essentially, my job involved the following routine: picking up a flattened cardboard box; folding it and turning it into a box; picking up 20 clay pigeons off the conveyor belt at a time (two piles of ten, one in each hand); stacking them into the box; when the box was full, moving it onto a pile of other boxes; repeating this all day for eight hours. Bliss.
Just to clarify: when I’m talking about clay pigeons, I’m not talking about charming bird-shaped ornaments that might adorn your grandma’s mantelpiece; I’m talking about bright orange discs of clay that are flung into the air by a machine and then blown into smithereens by trigger-happy people with a shotgun.
The horrible thing about these whimsical little discs is that they’ve just been sliced and moulded by a rather rustic looking bit of machinery. Consequently, they’re absolutely razor sharp on the bottom. Pick up thousands of these bad boys at high-speed all day and you’ve got yourself a recipe for severe finger lacerations. Throw into the mix the fact that when the ‘clays’ get stuck in the frequently malfunctioning machinery, you have to stick your hands in there and fish them out. At least ten times a day, you’d run the risk of going home without one of your beloved pinkies.
My other ‘packing’ companions were all burly oafs who could pick up the razor sharp discs with their bare (seemingly asbestos-coated) hands, but it was recommended that I wear some protective gloves. Much to my dismay, the so-called ‘protective’ gloves that I was given were not the armoured gauntlets I was expecting; they were made out of a thin latex material and were pretty much torn to shreds in a matter of seconds.
Maybe it was because I was dizzy from the loss of blood, maybe it was because I didn’t want a group of grown men to see me cry; but after that first day I decided to invest in some proper gloves. I went to my local hardware store and bought some woollen gloves with a protective rubber coating on the palms and fingers. After that, I felt like an invincible, box-packing superhero. Bring on the pigeons
The positives & negative
The worst thing about working at the clay pigeon factory was just how mind-numbingly boring I found it. Sure, I made good friends with the team, we listened to music and chatted about stuff, but the repetitive nature of the tasks completely killed me.
I did the same thing eight hours a day, five days a week, for two months. The only respite I got from my packing duties was when I had the wonderful ‘treat’ of sweeping up the broken clay pigeons that fell off the conveyor belt and made the factory floor look like a higgledy-piggledy, orange mosaic
Admittedly, there was one positive: doing such repetitive tasks allowed me to completely switch off and pack the boxes on autopilot. This gave me a marvellous amount of time to think about other stuff. I fantasised about the jobs I should have applied for, what job I might do in the future and I even wrote an entire film script in my head (straight to DVD).
The wake-up call
For the two months I worked at the factory, the ‘banter’ between the team largely revolved around football, beer and music. However, one day, the topic of conversation turned to our respective academic backgrounds. One lad was 16 and had just left school; another was in his mid-30s, but had left school at 16 and done factory jobs ever since; and the last chap had quite a surprising academic background:
Fellow factory worker: “Well, I got my undergraduate degree in ancient history from the University of St Andrews; then I got an MA in classics from the University of Liverpool. I didn’t get funding for my PhD, so I came back home and I’ve been working here for the past 12 years.”
Me: "Sorry, what?!"
Fellow factory worker: “Yeah, I suppose I just got kinda stuck here.”
This was the wake-up call I needed. I didn’t want to get stuck. I handed in my notice the next day and finished off the week. With my trusty gloves in my back pocket and my newly-acquired hiking boots on my feet, I walked out of the factory and started my job hunt properly.
I’ve got nothing against paying your dues and doing a job just to get some money. However, I think it’s important that you pursue a career that will genuinely interest you and challenge you. For me, as a graduate, I didn’t feel the job in the factory was right for me at all, even as a temporary solution. Don’t get me wrong, factory work is incredibly important and the guys who work at the clay pigeon factory do a great job. However, I think it’s important that you make your career decisions wisely.
If you haven’t got a job lined up when you leave university, you need to be proactive. Don’t do what I did. Get off your lazy bum and make things happen for yourself. Go after a career that you will absolutely love. You did your degree for a reason; make the most of it.
Image courtesy of Brian Omura, ‘That Ain’t No Shotgun’
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