Experience Work on Work Experience

MTV got there before me with ‘The Real World’ so I can’t rename the work experience module in further education as that. I doubt I’d get away with pushing through ‘Cop the f**k on’ or ‘Mature now or else!’ as working titles for the module either.

Yes there is the actual job to learn about, there are the skills to learn, practice or hone and of course there are opportunities to to put new skills learnt in the classroom into practical action. However what is just as important is the bits and pieces that go along with the job.

Apart from a brief 3 month spell spell of part-time work last summer I’ve been out of work for 5 years. Under ‘normal’ circumstances spending 2 weeks in an archive, working on 3 collections of documents from around the time of Ireland’s birth would seem like a job description written for me.

However as I’ve said many times what has been ‘normal’ for me recently? What has been ‘normal’ for you recently? Probably not much.

So starting my stint of ‘the real world’ I was a man-child mix of experience and knowledge on one hand, anxiety and lack of confidence on the other. Boundless enthusiasm and desire to work hard and impress on one hand, aching skeleton and sore muscles on the other. Fully aware I’m great in groups and making people feel comfortable, petrified of ringing the doorbell and starting.

The work itself was amazing. I worked on a database of images called the ‘Birth of the Republic’. Another included cartoons from a monthly satirical magazine called the Lepracaun which had a run from 1905-1915. The third database I worked on was digitising newsletters from a local youth club scaling over 15 years through the 40’s and 50’s. Some of the advice given to the boys really shows the generational changes, including not to be drawn in and corrupted by the immoral and supposedly glamorous lifestyle depicted in the movies.

Working in the quieter environment of the library and archive was great for my arthritis. I was able to sit down as much as I wanted and move about when I needed. However the hours spent staring at the computer screen was very draining. So while the job was not physically demanding, it was mentally tiring to focus on the screen for so long. I also had to have strict attention to detail and be diligent in the work to make sure the artefacts were stored in 3 places with the same archive numbers and location points.

Outside of the work, I found the commute very difficult. Leaving the city at rush hour meant it was pot luck for a seat and losing out meant arriving home exhausted. Then it became a spoons contest. Will I cook dinner or shower? How will I prepare breakfast and lunch for tomorrow? Do I have the energy to iron my clothes? Will I leave the bins until tomorrow to put out? Is it ok to go to bed at 6.30?

The job itself was fantastic. It was quieter than anything I’ve ever done before but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Experiencing going to work however brought some other factors to mind.

Working 9-5 meant getting blood tests, repeat prescriptions, making phone calls to the medical team were all much more difficult. Travelling at rush hour made getting a seat a game of chance and that had too many knock on effects to be sustainable for a commute of over an hour into the city.

Working in the city and being away from home for the day costs money. Every so often there’ll be a coffee to be bought, a lunch to have or something else. That’s all well and good when you’ve a few quid in your pocket but what happens when you’re less well off working than you are off work?

I want to work, I want to get the sense of achievement of accomplishment but it can’t cost me to do that. I have benefits and allowances that come from arthritis and the changes it has wrought on my life. Provided they can be offset by my wages I will go back to work.

Will it be in a library and/or archive? It’s certainly not been ruled out after my exposure to the ‘experience’. I have some more work experience coming up at a heritage site which will let me see what giving tours and being in an interpretive centre is like.

I’ll review the situation after that stint as well and then we’ll see what happens after I finish this years course. I’m no closer to knowing whether I’ll be looking forward to working, studying or volunteering when I finish in May but I’m glad of one thing; I’m all the better for the experience.