Workforce Q&A with opposition spokespeople
Holyrood speaks to the opposition parties’ spokespeople about their skills and starting out in the workforce: Iain Gray (IG), Scottish Labour spokesperson for education, skills and science; Patrick Harvie (PH), Scottish Greens co-leader and spokesperson for finance, economy, fair work and equalities; Jamie Greene (JG), Scottish Conservatives shadow cabinet secretary for education; and Beatrice Wishart (BW), Scottish Liberal Democrats spokesperson for education.
What was your first job and what essential skills did it teach you?
IG: Paper boy: a great job since I was finished by breakfast time. Unfortunately, being in a fast-growing estate, I ended up balancing a bike with two full bags of newspapers. My sister hated it because in those days there were papers on Christmas day and she had to wait for me to finish my round before presents!
PH: As a student I spent a few holidays distributing information about student services like hous-ing, welfare advice and insurance around students’ residential areas. The skills I gained ended up being excellent grounding for political canvassing.
JG: My first proper job after the usual teenage newspaper round was working in a shoe shop in Greenock. I got paid around £1.50 an hour, the boss was ferocious, but she secretly was nice to me because I had a strong work ethic, was polite to customers and I saw her as a maternal figure.
I took the job because my family were deprived and I wanted pocket money and to buy my mum a nice Christmas present. I was 15. I’ll never forget the ethic it instilled in me, to get out of bed and work for a living. I’ve never not worked since then.
BW: My first job was doing odds and ends in the family business from pricing Christmas cards for the bookshop to reading advert proofs with my father for the newspaper. Those adverts taught me a lot about the people and businesses around Shetland and what they did to make a living.
What was the worst job you’ve ever had?
IG: Injecting jam into jam doughnuts in a bakery. I hate being sticky and this required stirring the jam with your arm up to the armpits in jam. Unsurprisingly, I don’t eat jam doughnuts.
PH: Sexwise. It was a sexual health helpline for teenagers, and in a six-hour shift there would gen-erally be three or four really important, worthwhile and rewarding calls, but also hundreds of tedi-ous, repetitive and silly ones. Occasional wind-ups or abuse. Lots of time explaining what words meant, both slang and formal terms. It was a hard thing to recognise, as a single twentysomething, that I had defined more sexual activities than I could ever aspire to take part in.
JG: I struggled financially at university, so I had two jobs. A weekend job in a bar and weekday nightshifts in a call centre. The worst, however, was a certain well-known Scottish bank’s mortgage centre. I had to do data entry for mortgage applications. Thousands of them. Day in day out. No-one spoke to me, everyone was rude and depressed. I left after three days.
BW: I’ve been incredibly lucky, I don’t think I have ever had a bad job. A teenage summer was once spent packing whitefish in a fish factory and I still bear the scar of my first attempts at filleting a haddock with a razor sharp knife.
What is your most unusual skill?
IG: Very rusty, but speaking Portuguese (I taught physics and maths in Mozambique, in Portuguese – that’s a quick way to learn a language!)
PH: My breadmaking is pretty good, and my record time solving the Rubik’s Cube is 90 seconds.
JG: I speak fluent Spanish, French, Catalan and Irish. I’m a qualified yacht-skipper, advanced diver, I did half of my PPL flying course, I am a TEFL qualified English teacher and silversmith, often seen sporting my own silver cufflinks made in my home studio. I’m told I have a decent singing voice too.
BW: I don’t know about unusual but my patchwork and quilting skills are improving. I’m also the Scottish Environment LINK species champion for Orcas so I suppose my whale whispering skills are coming along.
At what point in your working life did you stop being a ‘low-skilled’ worker?
IG: Every job has skills – even balancing that bike! Seriously, in every job I have done from bus conductor to MSP I have met people who bring to it a degree of skill I could only aspire to. This is of course something the Government’s new immigration system fails to understand.
PH: I’m not sure what a low skilled worker is. Some of the lowest paid jobs I’ve done have de-manded disciplined timekeeping, patience and communication skills with members of the public, multitasking, as well as the skills needed to keep on top of life admin on a very low budget. Just managing life on low wages is a high skilled job!
JG: I don’t really buy hugely into the term low-skilled, every job requires a skill of some nature and you can find pride in anything you do. I do recall that moment though having worked in the ‘fluffy’ side of TV production when I moved over into business. I did my first million pound deal a few weeks before my 30th birthday. I brokered a huge contract between two broadcasters and was tipped as “a hot shot and future director general of the BBC” by industry trade Broadcast Magazine in its annual accolades.
BW: I’d like to take issue with the phrase “low-skilled” worker. Far too often it’s used synonymous-ly with low paid and often such jobs are among the most physically and mentally draining of all. In Shetland we couldn’t function without care workers to look after the elderly and vulnerable or hospitality workers to promote our fantastic produce, yet too often these roles are poorly recom-pensed and not treated with the respect they deserve.
What is the worst job in your own home and who has to do it?
IG: Picking up dog poo in the garden – both of us have to take a turn, although I think Gil would say she has to take more turns than me…
PH: I don’t much like cleaning the shower. But I live alone so any housework I don’t do myself simply doesn’t happen.
JG: Violins at the ready, I live alone. I’ve been single since getting into politics such is the toll it takes on one’s personal life. I cook, I clean, and I iron. The job I absolutely cannot stand is washing dish-es. The machine does that for me.
BW: As I now live alone, unfortunately everything has to be my job. I don’t think anyone likes put-ting out the rubbish!