A golden opportunity for the Work Study Student

by Joyce Sinclair
Guyana Chronicle
July 30, 2000

WITH the conclusion of CXC and GCE examinations, many of our offices have been welcoming a category of person called "Word Study Student" on attachment for some weeks.

There are different approaches to the Work Study Student, both by the student and the receiving office. Some offices plan a meaningful experience for these young people about to enter the world of work. Some see it as a positive learning experience and seek to inculcate, in the young, attitudes and values that should serve them well in the next phase of their lives.

They talk a lot with the students. They share values. They are role models. They lead by example. Others regard them merely as hired hands - persons to count vouchers or help to keep the shelves tidy.

I once asked an official of the Ministry of Education what the agencies that received the Work Study Students were told was the purpose of their attachments to those agencies.

I wondered whether it was a requirement for each agency to provide someone called Supervisor of Word Study Attachees. Someone who would be responsible for ensuring that the student, while attached, received some amount of training not only in the technical areas of his/her attachment, but basic training in office etiquette, living and working with persons in an office, and customer care. I have always felt that this was a golden opportunity to make a little difference in the lives of these young people.

Many of them do not get these social skills or people skills in the schools from which they come. Many are hungry for the knowledge they receive and are so receptive and pleasant when corrected. Many do even better than the regularly employed public servants. Some are by instinct more polite, willing and helpful.

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of work to be done with very many of them as we prepare them for the world of work later.

I was in a Ministry during the last attachment of students, when an eager, smiling counter clerk approached to serve me. He was well-intentioned, but he slapped the palm of his hand on the counter more than once as he said to me: "Watch meh muds, watch meh muds. Leh me help yuh."

I was appalled at this innovative approach to the customer. As I said, the person was well-meaning. He genuinely wanted to help me. His supervisor, if there was one, did not correct him. Others who heard him may well have thought that it was the right way to approach the customer.

After my initial shock, I myself called him to the end of the counter and give the necessary advice.

Earlier the same week, a pleasant sounding young lady answered the telephone when I called a certain office. She said "Hello". I then said, "My name is Joyce Sinclair. Am I on to the... Basket Office?" Her response was "Yes". I then said, "May I speak with Mr Ruler?" I heard not another word until eventually Mr Ruler came on the line.

I subsequently learnt that the person who answered the phone was a Work Study Student, as though that exempted her from being courteous on the telephone. So after more than four weeks of work study attachment, this particular trainee did not learn how to answer the telephone in a public office. Maybe, no one said to her not to say "Hello" but to identify her office. For example: "Good day. Thanks for calling the Ministry of Courtesy. How may I help you?"

No one seemed to have told her that if the caller asked to speak with someone in the office, she needed to respond e.g., "Will you hold please while I connect you?" When I did not hear anything from her, I concluded that she had fainted and had fallen. I did not know if she had even heard me. I was relieved, however, when Mr Ruler came on the line.

We have to guard against Work Study Students taking away from their places of attachment, poor impressions of what work is like there, or taking away examples of discourteous office conduct. Isn't training part of it? Let us give them a total experience. We will never regret it. It must pay off. Let us train whenever there is an opportunity to do so. This is our Guyana. Every little we do helps in some small way to improve us as a nation.

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