Not every learnership is created equal. Some students are fortunate enough to land a gig where they not only get to function as an active member of the team but walk away with a potential job opportunity. Others commit to a learnership that somehow ends up being a far cry from what they signed up for.
So, what do you do when your learnership is not all that it’s cracked up to be? What happens when you aren’t taught what you were promised, or when you end up being the errand runner rather than your superior’s right hand?
Here are 5 ways to make the best out of a poor learnership experience:
1. Review your job description
It’s not uncommon for learnerships to veer off track as supervisors and employees get wrapped up in their own to-do lists. Things are looking good until suddenly, you are left with projects that don’t even last you until your lunch break, or worse… nothing at all. In order to avoid being the go-to coffee girl, be aware of what your job description entails and don’t be afraid to remind your manager(s) what you were offered when you accepted the learnership. Or, if you don’t seem to be picking up all the skills that you expected, compare your daily task list to the job description and figure out where you need to focus more or less of your time. Remember, this is YOUR experience and your future on the line… not theirs.
2. Speak up
It can feel a little bit funny to say what’s on your mind, especially to a supervisor that you want to impress, but it’s a must if you’re going to make the most of your time on the job. Learnerships are often only a couple of months long, so it’s vital that you set the stage for what is sure to be a whirlwind experience. If you are not learning what you need to learn, if you’re feeling mistreated or underutilized, or if you are being told to do grunt work that you did not sign up for… speak up! Your boss is not a mind reader and likely just needs to be told that things are not going well.
You may consider treating the situation as if it were a real job. If you were working for this company full-time and didn’t have any desire to look for another job, what would you do? Just deal with it? No! You’d do what you could to make it better. After all, you have to go in every day for the foreseeable future, so you might as well fix what’s broken. Request a meeting and lay it all out there, while remaining positive and explaining how you’d like to help the company succeed. Stick up for yourself; you are your own best advocate.
3. Explore other options
Perhaps your supervisor is too tied up to think about how you may help beyond filing away boxes of old paperwork. Or maybe, you’ve spent more time twiddling your thumbs than doing anything productive. The only way you can get out of a situation like this is to ask for more. Start with your supervisor. First, find out if he or she may need your hands, and if not, suggest exploring another department until they’re ready to use you.
“I am all caught up with Project X. Do you have any other tasks that I can take on?”
“I know you’re swamped with the annual report. Can I help you organize any of the data? I am pretty good with Microsoft Excel.”
“I noticed that Manager X was working on Project Y. If you don’t have anything else for me to do today, do you mind offering my assistance?”
The company you work for is supposed to teach you as best they can, but there will be times when you have to take the reins and steer yourself toward your desired end goal. You will likely find that your supervisor was simply too occupied in their work that they didn’t realize how much of a help you could have been
4. Take the bad and think about how to make it better
Some of the best experience you can get is bad experience, because it teaches you how to and more importantly, how NOT to handle certain situations. From how to treat your fellow employees to how to handle difficult customers… it all boils down to proper experience! Also, tasks that seem negative may help you come up with ways that they can be performed more efficiently. Often, a fresh perspective is all a company needs to transform a not-so-effective method into a well-oiled machine.
5. Look at the bigger picture
Finally, think BIG. No one goes through life with the perfect professional life. If it was perfect, then you wouldn’t have many opportunities to learn, right? Sometimes you just have to do the dirty work with the knowledge that you will eventually be the one calling the shots. Trivial, repetitive, boring tasks make the more challenging projects more exciting, and they make you appreciate those who work beneath you that much more… because you’ve been there. At the end of the day, it’s all a learning experience.
Learnerships are meant to help students discover where they belong. A negative experience may compel you to research other areas to find your best fit, or it may ignite a fire that pushes you to find a company that will offer you the experience you deserve. No matter what, it will help shape you as a person and as a professional in the long run.