October 8, 2018

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My First Job(s): Getting Inspired to Fight for a Better Future

Welcome back to the My First Job blog series, where we ask Sirenumites, partners, customers, and friends to reminisce about their first paying job. For more information, see our introduction to the series here.

When I was young, my family lived in a small village outside of Zaragoza, Spain. After the Spanish Civil War, my family made our living working in the agricultural sector. In the early 1960’s, my sisters and I decided to move to the city to forge a different future.

Following my willingness to study, I enrolled in a Catholic secondary school for my baccalaureate (roughly equivalent to A-levels in the UK), and didn’t hesitate to look for a job to earn some money in my spare time.

Very quickly I found a job in a big, cold warehouse, where I was part of an assembly line. At that time, all Spanish companies were expected to offer their workers a complimentary box with Christmas food and drinks for the Christmas holidays. My company’s was responsible for putting together goodie boxes and delivering them to other businesses that would buy them from us.

After only a few days I realised that higher responsibility positions were filled by only men, while young women would do all the physical work. It was only men who had a real contract, while we would be paid cash in hand.

women worehouse working

After the Christmas season, I had to find another job, but I couldn’t forget the inequalities I had perceived in the warehouse. Unfortunately, what I found was no better. My next job was situated in a dark, damp basement, where young women would glue soles on shoes. With no ventilation, the glue smell would get to our heads making us feel dizzy. On top of that, our boss treated us unfairly and violently–this was no place for any human being!

I tried to convince my co-workers to stand up for our rights, but everyone was too afraid to lose their jobs. I did my best to improve our conditions, but after not seeing any improvements, I decided to quit.

After these experiences, I finished my baccalaureate and joined a company where I worked for 45 years until I recently retired. One of the most valuable things I learned from my first jobs was to stand up for my rights and the rights of those who can’t speak for themselves. I became a braver, stronger woman; I joined unions and fought for women’s rights. And more importantly, as I gained responsibility in my roles, I never forgot to treat everyone with respect, regardless of how much they were earning or how simple or complex their work was.


–A story by our friend María José

June 8, 2017

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My First Job: Overpriced Burgers, Invaluable Experience

This is the sixth of our My First Job blog series, where we ask Sirenumates, partners, and customers to reminisce about their first paying job. For more information, see our introduction to the series here.

first job central london burgersMy first job was as a bartender in an upscale burger restaurant in central London. The owners had a vision–a simplified menu that focused on a high-end burger costing upwards of £35 despite coming with nothing more than a side of lettuce.

The kitchen staff consisted of former chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants paid exorbitant fees to flip ultimately underwhelming burger patties. The waiting floor was served by only one waitress, a sweet young woman from Uzbekistan. She could have easily handled 30 tables filled with customers who expected a quick snack before a night out but ended up waiting up to 40 minutes for a beautiful looking but overpriced and bland burger. Naturally, those customers were not the most polite.

This was my first real job–I had applied for it, attended an interview and somehow managed to convince the owners that although I had no experience, I would make sure they had the best bartender in town. Quickly, I was making a small fortune in wages. I worked an average of 80 hours per week, and although this was just a temporary job, I ended up staying until the restaurant closed its doors to the public permanently–which was just five months after I joined.

Often, the bulk of the restaurant was filled by “influencers,” those journalists and even YouTube bloggers invited to dine for free in exchange for a positive review. It was key to the owners’ plan. It was also a bit of desperation. They even tried to give free drinks to strangers walking by so they would come inside afirst job business closedownnd take pictures for social media. Now, given that the restaurant closed five months after opening due to bankruptcy I suppose that the high-end burger venture was not really well accepted by influencers or those strangers. After all, who would want to spend £30 on a dry chicken burger on their lunch break?

Things started to fall apart after a few months. After the manager decided to quit, I was next in line to get that role. I found myself doing all sorts of tasks, from scheduling the waiters and the kitchen staff, to managing and calculating petty cash, to running reports on shifts and orders to suppliers, to even designing the menu and logos! Unfortunately a month later we had to close and all that was left to do was sell £60k worth of equipment to one lucky guy for just £5k.

So that was my first job. I cannot even begin to quantify how much experience and knowledge I gained from this experience. Most of the time I didn’t know what to do, since I had to quickly change roles due to the lack of staff, co-workers calling in sick, and a complete lack of training or real oversight and management. However it taught me how to talk to customers, gave me self-confidence, and affirmed the key takeaways from my university taught me about managing a business–that people are at the heart of a business, but also poor market-product fit can quickly lead to bankruptcy!

May 2, 2017

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My First Job: Constructing a Work Ethic

This is the fifth of our My First Job blog series, where we ask Sirenumates, partners, and customers to reminisce about their first paying job. For more information, see our introduction to the series here.
When I finished high school, I started to look for a job. I was quickly hired by a little company in the construction industry. Being the low man on the totem pole in construction is a really physically demanding job. I had to work 12 hours in a row with little breaks every day, and some of the tasks were hard: breaking walls, clearing breaks, drilling holes, digging the ground, etc.

I feel that I learnt a lot from my first job. My boss was putting me down all the time for poor performance and that made me feel completely unengaged. One day, after a long time bearing with this type of behaviour, I decided to quit. I just put down my tools and left. I was very discouraged and felt like a failure. That’s how my boss had made me feel about my role in the team.

However my boss called me and begged me to return! I decided to give in, since he had apologised, but the truth is that he didn’t change his manner, and even after what had happened, he kept putting me down – but not as much. I figured that he didn’t want to lose me, because training a new worker would have been harder than keeping me. I couldn’t be so bad after all!

After a while I left in order to continue my studies, but 12 years later, when I was planning my wedding, I needed help to put together the lights and such things. I called my ex-boss, who volunteered to do all the work free of charge – as my wedding present. He said he was very grateful for I was the best worker he ever had.
I learnt something important at my first job; while people’s feedback is important, action speaks louder than words. But his words later in life sure did mean a lot to me.

March 21, 2017

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My First Job: A Newspaper Delivery Boy

This is the forth of our My First Job blog series, where we ask Sirenumates, partners, and customers to reminisce about their first paying job. For more information, see our introduction to the series here.

My first job was as a newspaper delivery boy at the tender age of 14, working for the corner shop at the end of the road in my North London neighborhood.

Along with my brother and little sister, we thought it would be a great way for us to earn some money. By chance, the owner of the corner shop had three routes that needed covering. The interview consisted of three questions, all of which we asked:

1. Can we have the job? – Yes
2. What time do we need to be at the shop to start? 5AM
3. How much will we get paid? £14 a week

Yes, the questions were asked in that order. All the excitement I had at getting my first paying job was drained when the owner’s answer for question two was 5AM. Still, I figured I’d give it a go.

The first shift was grueling. I hadn’t anticipated how difficult it would be to get up on time and what actually needed to be done. In addition to actually delivering the newspapers, I first had to fill the order of which houses needed which newspapers and then arrange the newspapers for the most efficient route. At this point, I realised that I hadn’t asked what the routes were and I didn’t actually know the route as well as I thought I did. I didn’t get any help from the owner. He shrugged it off and told me to get on with it. As you can imagine, that first shift took me a lot longer than it should have. And it wasn’t just the first shift but the whole first week. I was late for school almost every day of that week as I tested different routes.

As the days went on, the early starts got easier and I had figured out the best route. I’d started taking my bike so I was getting the job done a lot faster, meaning I could still get to school on time. Sometimes, I was able to finish so quickly that I could catch up with my brother or sister on their routes and help them. Weekends were always a pain, largely because Sunday newspapers were so heavy! I still didn’t get much help from the owner, and really only interacted with him when it was pay day.

I still remember my last day as a newspaper delivery boy. I’d taken my bike like I normally did, but I’d gotten lazy and had stopped locking the bike every time I got off to post the newspaper through letterbox. On one delivery, someone had stolen my bike within the 90 seconds it took me to post the newspaper and walk out of the front courtyard, but they were kind enough to leave the lock that I didn’t use! I completed the shift, walked back to the corner shop and told the owner what happened. He asked me one question: “Did you finish delivering all the papers?” Frankly, I was a bit upset he didn’t show any sympathy. I decided I couldn’t go back to walking the route and risking being late for school again.

Unfortunately, that was the end of my budding news career!

It was a very valuable experience for me. It really did teach me about the value of earning money. On reflection now, there are still many key takeaways that can be applied today:

  • Make sure your workers know what the job entails
  • Make sure they know where they need to go
  • Find a way to engage your workers – it goes a long way
  • Always lock your bike

October 7, 2016

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My First Job: A Travel Agency Dogsbody

This is the third of our My First Job blog series, where we ask Sirenumates, partners, and customers to reminisce about their first paying job. For more information, see our introduction to the series here.

My first job was a summer job at the end of my first year at University, way back in 1985. I was a general dogsbody at my brother-in-law’s company, a tour operator that sold flights and package holidays to Sicily and Sardinia. First of all, to answer your question: yes, dogsbody is a word–it’s kind of like a gofer in American English…an errand boy if you will.
Air travelAnyhow, it was a small office in Victoria, London, and I had to take a one hour train from Brighton every day. I made the tea whenever someone wanted tea, and ran off to do errands for the staff too, from picking up dry cleaning to doing the lunch round. I also wrote out the flight tickets by hand and sent them to customers. I was only paid £2 per hour, but I loved this job, and loved the staff, who were really nice to me. Within a couple of weeks, I was answering the phone and booking holidays for customers.
One huge mistake I made once was I wrote the wrong destination on a ticket to a VIP customer. They were supposed to fly to Catania in Sicily, but I mistakenly wrote out a ticket to Alghero in Sardinia instead. They actually boarded the wrong aircraft, but staff finally worked out what was wrong and got them off the flight before it took off, and safely on to the Catania flight; however, they didn’t do this to the luggage, so the luggage went to Sardinia and they went to Sicily.  Ho-hum, I got a dressing down from brother-in-law as a result.
Another time, I used a flight ticket as a novel way to invite my friend in Southend to visit me in Brighton. He thought I’d pulled some strings to get him on a flight from Southend to Brighton, so presented himself at Southend Airport with said ticket. After rolling about laughing, they told him he’d been had, and that Brighton didn’t even have an airport! So in the end he hitchhiked from Southend to Brighton, we shared a big laugh and then had a great weekend together.
My brother-in-all could be tough and being family, he knew how to give me a hard time, but he wasn’t all bad. At the end of the summer he let me fly to Sicily for four days and stay at one of the better hotels there!

August 24, 2016

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My First Job: Big Trouble in Little Kitchens

This is the second of our My First Job blog series, where we ask Sirenumates, partners, and customers to reminisce about their first paying job. For more information, see our introduction to the series here.

My first job was at a sandwich bar in my Spanish home town of Zaragoza. These types of places are open mostly at nitapasght, offering fresh sandwiches and tapas. I was one of three kitchen assistants, and I worked Friday-Sunday, quite late in the afternoon and evening, when the bar was busiest.

Things got off to an interesting start when, on my first day, I discovered that the staff had no place to change clothes or leave valuables. We only had six small lockers in the back of a pantry room for a total of eight staff—leaving none for me as the newbie. Plus, the temperature there was incredibly hot—though admittedly not as hot as inside the kitchen!

In the kitchen, three assistants worked alongside the chef—who owned the place—all together in a room not larger than six square meters. There was only space for us to work at our respective spots. So for example, if you wanted to assemble a salad, your teammate couldn’t slice bread. Plus, the co-owner—who was the chef’s wife—would smoke in the kitchen, which was terrible, but I couldn’t complain because I wanted to keep my job!

July 28, 2016

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My First Job: A Car Wash. In Miami. In the Summer.

This is the first of our My First Job blog series, where we ask Sirenumates, partners, and customers to reminisce about their first paying job. For more information, see our introduction to the series here

A Car Wash. In Miami. In the Summer.

Yep, that was my first job. I was 17 years old and couldn’t afford to be too picky. So a car wash in Miami had to do. Imagine 95 degree heat. Then imagine taking a shower in water the same temperature. That’s pretty much what working at a car wash in Miami in July is like. And while, yes, the heat and humidity contributed to the misery of that first job, it was surprisingly not the biggest contributor. Not even close. Worse than melting in hot suds was the turmoil of dealing with all the uncertainties created by management.Car wash

What does working at a car wash entail? Well, there were the usual things you’d expect: spraying wheels with degreaser, vigorously drying windshields and windows, handing over keys to thankful car owners. But there were also some things I didn’t expect:

(1) punching out at the first sign of a dark cloud, being forced into the “waiting room”–which amounted to a windowless 10’x10′ (3mx3m) room–while off-clock with all other employees, many of whom were smoking;
(2) having little to no insight into my upcoming schedule or pay;
(3) feeling completely unengaged with business operations; and
(4) offered little to no training.

And all in that glorious Miami summer I described above! Needless to say, turnover was high. Comically high. And management didn’t seem to care. It’s easy to say from afar that this was a minimum wage job and expectations shouldn’t have been too high. But my time there certainly opened my eyes to the challenges of employee engagement, health and safety, retention, and satisfaction in part-time jobs.

After a couple months at the car wash, I got a  job at The Gap. The two jobs overlapped for a week or so and the difference was stark. While I appreciate that The Gap is hiring a different type of worker, both on the employee and supervision sides, the amount of basic attention paid to workers was dramatically different from the car wash. Needless to say, technology has evolved since then. But what mattered more than the technology at our fingertips (or lack thereof) was the attitude of management; their willingness to engage their workers made all the difference.

I will say that I learned quite a bit from my time at the car wash (and subsequent time at The Gap). And though it was far from a perfect first job–what is?!–it definitely taught me a lot about people management and how (not) to motivate laborers.

July 20, 2016

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My First Job: A New Blog Series from Sirenum

Here at Sirenum, we are always looking to learn and share about the world of shift workers. First Job

So that’s why we are launching a new initiative to get to the heart of the experience, one that nearly all of us have been through: we are going to tell you about our first jobs.

Not all Sirenumates–what we call our team members–will share their first job stories…but most will. And we’ll share some insights from our clients as well. Of course, we’d love for our readers to join in the fun too, so don’t hesitate to reach out if you’ve got a tale to tell!

So watch this space over the coming weeks and months as we share the highs and lows of our first jobs.

  1. My First Job: A Car Wash. In Miami. In the Summer.
  2. My First Job: Big Trouble in Little Kitchens
  3. My First Job: A Travel Agency Dogsbody
  4. My First Job: A Newspaper Delivery Boy
  5. My First Job: Constructing a Work Ethic
  6. My First Job: Overpriced Burgers, Invaluable Experience
  7. My First Job(s): Getting Inspired to Fight for a Better Future