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How Do You Break the Vicious Circle That Is Hospitality and Retail?

Student Struggles in the Workforce: From the Bleak Shores of Hospitality to More Creative Waters...

Artwork by @morcika96

I have had a pencil, crayon, pen, or charred piece of wooden stick in my hand for as long as I can remember. The first thing I ever sat down to draw was an illustration on a McDonald's Happy Meal box —thanks for that, by the way. A simple image of a skittish Tigger barging into Pooh's house and landing on the bear's adorable soft, yellow potbelly. I sat down, captured by the scene, the colours or the simple outlines that possessed me for some reason with the ancient set of crayons I had at the age of about four, and drew it as well as I could.

I haven't stopped since then. Art is something I cannot erase from my life...actually, let me rephrase that. Creativity is something I cannot erase from my life.

When I started university, I suffered greatly because I didn't see how psychology by writing essays and lab reports could be creative. However, as the year progressed, I saw that just like psychology, creativity is everywhere too. Testing certain things, coming up with clever designs to "trick" people into producing the desired behaviour requires a finesse and an intricate way of thinking about concepts, as well as immense curiosity. What I also discovered is that one does not have to necessarily be a fan of people to find human behaviour interesting. For the most part, I found the darkest parts of human nature the most fascinating.

With time, I have managed to dovetail my then two passions: art and psychology. I made time to sit down for just an hour and sketch something really quickly, or I would research my assignment and as the well-deserved reward for exploring something insanely obscure, like how the Multi-store Model of Memory in someones's head coined the idea that there aren't stores, but Levels of Processing that enable stimuli to leave imprints of varying depth in our memory depending on which sense we use to encode it with; I sat down and used my new Faber Castell set of pencils.

I worked through the whole year. I had at least three consecutive jobs. From November last year to, I think, mid January this year I was—at least it felt like it—constantly going on interviews. It is impossible to find a job that actually pays the bills, you enjoy, and is not in hospitality or retail when you're a student. Maybe I'm the one who is not fulfilled at 21 by having to direct rich people who do not bother to read to the fourth floor to the sixth irrelevant bauble they absolutely need.

Maybe I am the one who should be satisfied with doing emotional labour all day to then be given a 30 minute pep talk from a manager who probably never had to do a minimal wage job ever in his life. All this at half-ten after a night shift. They called it a briefing where they told us statistics about the company income and the target to achieve and how we weren't engaging with the customer enough. I'm stressing, after the shift ends. This was the retail job where they actually took care of their employees surprisingly.

I had interviews where I went for a trial shift, and at the end, the manager came up to me and said that I should come for another one since the restaurant was not busy when I was here and she could not see my potential. It was busy and I did what I could. I also agreed to coming again; however, when I asked for a time, they never replied. At another place, I was scolded for not following the customer to the table where I sent them to. Ironically, I had to send them to the back of the restaurant instead of the corner seats at the bar that they requested in their booking because the manager woman was sitting where I arranged them to be seated. Yes, the manager or owner woman—cause whoever wears a hoodie, grey skinny jeans with shiny stiletto boots and pulls her super short hair into a joke of a ponytail must be the lady of the house—was sitting in the middle of this small restaurant in Soho at seven on a Friday. I'm sure I was in the wrong —the one doing the trial shift.

Needless to say, there had to be at least one restaurant where I was a host where the marketing was so bad and the place itself was so deep in the metal, corporate heart of Bank that no one found it. It was pretty. They were very lovely, but they hired me prematurely cause they thought a 'flagship' is a customer magnet and every time they utter the word, more and more people magically know about the existence of this place. AND they had no hostess station. People may have thought I was pretty, but the awkward British grabbed every opportunity not to have to maintain eye-contact, smile back, or acknowledge my 5'9-self. I actually caught someone saying something along the lines of "yeah, she's pretty, but she's not doing anything." Sure it looked like it without a station I was just a more attractive, less muscular bouncer.

The only sane place I have worked at so far only for a couple of hours was a small restaurant in Peckham. The vibe was cosy, people were friendly even though I dropped in for a couple of hours instead of someone else, and despite spilling coffee on the manager woman, they were still the best people I've worked with so far.

What I was aiming at describing was my experience and how, while I could like what I do, it helps achieve an assertiveness, a way of handling conflict, and getting to know the real human nature, other than the physical challenges of having the stamina to stand in one place for hours on end or run around headless in the sea of orders, queries, and screaming children or drunks—depending on the establishment—are not extended to the creative parts of the brain. Catering, hostessing is monotone. The thrill is gone once you get used to the environment.

By showcasing my latest artwork in the article, I was meant to illustrate how no matter how unique one is or how much personal experience one has, it is insanely difficult for a student to break free of the loop of hospitality. One would think that creative industries like digital marketing fields or fashion or content management would open their arms towards fresh talent. However, jobs are either unpaid internships that in any way or shape or form will, at a point, either be so sidelined because of other duties that one has to cease to continue it or feels like the exploitation of the accumulated knowledge by the individual. Not to mention in the first scenario literally everything else will be a priority just in general. I am saying this as a diligent, compassionate, committed individual. It just makes sense. The order goes: studies, paid internships/ jobs, everything else that they don't throw cash at you for.

And the biggest foe...experience. I'd like a new version of Lord of the Rings where instead of "my precious," Smeagol snarls "experience." Because that is, just like it was for Gollum's whole existence, the word that the job-market revolves around. Which can be an advantage. Unfortunately, I might have all the skills and experience you might need for a particular job; however, I haven't worked at a company before where my work could be published. Therefore, it means very little to potential employers. People rarely give out chances to young people these days. I have applied to ASOS many times and I cannot believe that out of the ten applications, one was not even close to qualifying. Hell, I wanted to work for them so badly that I designed a separate CV in Photoshop just to apply to their internship. I always get the same reply though: "You have strong skills, but others were more suitable." If my skills are so strong, then why am I not hired yet!? This type of non-constructive criticism helps no one. I want to know what I am missing so I can improve while I can.

It would be amazing if companies actually told people why applications are rejected. I can only try so hard if I don't have a clue as to what I would have to improve. I have sent my portfolio to design companies, articles to content writer positions, but to no avail. I hear nothing back. It is frustrating, especially because I know I am capable of transitioning to the creative industry. Someone should just take a chance on me.

I feel as students and as young adults, we are stuck in this in between world where we would love to do something that is meaningful and challenging, but cannot dedicate 40 hours a week to it just yet. I would love to get ahead and have something to show for myself when I finish university. I would like to try new things in the workforce, learn anything and everything I can but companies do make it a hardship to build a career as well as study. Build a career in a field one considers as a part of the individual's future and not a way of avoiding starvation.

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