Jayne Dowle: Why this Christmas is a work in progress for my teenage son Jack

OUR Jack has been busier than an elf in Lapland this Christmas. For the first time ever, my 16-year-old son has a proper, paying job. He's a waiter in a local hotel, and a condition of the job was that he was available for work on December 25.

Spare a thought for hospitality staff - and their families - this Christmas, says Jayne Dowle.

This means I forgo my festive morning glass of fizz and deliver him to the hotel kitchen door at midday where he will serve Christmas dinners. At 4pm, the adult in the house who has drawn the lot to remain sober and legal to drive will go and pick him up.

Then we will sit down and eat our own dinner and congratulate Jack on his achievement. It takes some maturity for a teenager to go to work on Christmas Day without complaint. I’m very proud of him, especially because I know he will be proud of himself when he sees his bank balance at the end of the month.

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And I’m proud of us all for finding him this job. It certainly took some doing. However, I was determined that he was going to also start earning himself some money when he started college in September.

I won’t bore you with memories of my halcyon days working Saturdays in a local pork butchers, or brag too much about my glittering pre-university career as a part-time lobby hostess for a famous fast food restaurant. Just ask Jack. He’s heard it all often enough. However, I will tell you that I was brought up with the value of hard work and self-sufficiency drilled into me, mostly by my indomitable grandmother, who would check my post office savings book every week to make sure I wasn’t splurging all my earnings on Miners lip gloss and illicit cider.

Back then though, part-time work for teenagers was easy to come by.

My partner, waiting to start his bricklaying apprenticeship, was given 2p for the bus by his mother and sent to Barnsley with instructions to walk round the market and not come back until he had found a job. And he did. As a barrow boy for a fruit and veg stall. No health and safety back then. The stallholder just gave him the trolley and told him to get on with it.

Not so these days. Having established that he wanted to work in some kind of customer service role, I helped Jack create a CV and we took it to about 20 shops and bars in town. Not a single business bothered to even acknowledge his interest.

So we starting applying for roles with major retailers, restaurants and supermarkets online. I hadn’t realised the dominance of the online assessment these days. The questions they ask about customer service scenarios would tax even a psychology graduate. I think this is far too tough, especially for 16-year-olds.

Obviously, I tried to help Jack fill in the correct answers to dilemmas arising from rude customers and missing items, but I failed miserably. With a degree in English and three decades of journalism behind me, I even managed to flunk the application to be a stock-room assistant in Argos. At one point, I was even going to sign him up as an actual proper elf in a garden centre grotto. They were looking for enthusiastic helpers good with children, and I reckoned that his Year 10 work experience in a day nursery, plus his memorable appearance as a tree in a school nativity play, made him the ideal candidate.

However, as he’s now 6ft 2in tall in his socks, he’d make a far better reindeer than an elf. Poor Jack was almost in tears begging me not to make him do it. I felt so sorry for him, I sat down at the laptop and searched again, vetoing the vacancies which required any kind of online application in favour of good old-fashioned phoning up.

This led to us standing in the elegant foyer of the hotel that afternoon with Jack’s CV and a covering letter to give to the manager, who rang in the evening and asked him for an interview. Within two days he was booked in for his first shift, slightly bashful in smart black shoes, shirt and trousers.

Despite Jack’s reluctance to even look at the dishwasher at home, his bearing, stamina and natural sunny nature appear to fit him well for waitering. All qualities, you might note, which can’t be measured by any kind of online assessment test.

So please do think of Jack tomorrow, and all the other teenagers savouring their first taste of work this Christmas. And perhaps spare a thought for his parents too. It was also a condition of the job that Jack was available for the New Year’s Eve dinner and dance. Sadly, he hasn’t asked for a bike for Christmas and it’s about four miles to walk. Guess it’s going to be a quiet one this year then...