OK, so shelf stacking may not be mentally taxing and it may not be a great skill, but is it really so bad?
As a 14/15 yo I had a Saturday job working for FineFare, a supermarket chain in the North East. Guess what I did? Yep, I stacked shelves. Bloomin' hard work it was too. It involved:
- humping heavy boxes from the warehouse (no wheeled cages or H&S guidance those days),
- keeping records of all goods removed from warehouse,
- removing existing stock from the shelves,
- cleaning the empty shelves,
- dusting all the tins/packages,
- printing and attaching price stickers to each and every item,
- loading the new stock at the back of the shelf - all facing forward,
- then replacing the older stock to the front of the shelf,
- ensuring shelf price labels were correct.
Some weeks I'd have to bag up potatoes - weighing and bagging for hours on end. Other weeks I'd be on the checkouts handling lots of cash and occasionally cheques - no credit card swiping those days and no bar code scanning. Everything done by hand and mental agility.
Occasionally I'd have to mop spillages or clean the glass windows/doors. I truly didn't mind. It was work.
To earn extra cash I used to volunteer for overnight stocktaking duties. Now that was REALLY mundane. All done by physical counting with pen and paper and lots of mental arithmetic.
Was this slave labour? OK, I wasn't doing it for free; I think I earned around £1 each Saturday. But, hard work though it was, I definitely didn't regard it as slave labour.
Did I gain any transferrable skills? You bet your life I did! I learned to get out of bed on a Saturday morning - which at 14/15 is no mean feat! I had to be tidy and presentable (washing and ironing my own uniform). I learned to communicate with my peers and with customers of all ages. I learned to be punctual and reliable - no phoning in sick. Most importantly, I acquired a work ethic. I learned that if you want something in life, you have to work for it, and that requires effort and persistence.
So despite the recent furore about Tesco et al not paying their work experience candidates, those who were given the opportunity to enlist as "slave labour" could have gone on to permanent roles with their respective employers or at least have gained some experience and transferrable skills to add to their CVs, and improved their self-confidence. Those with intelligence and initiative could even perhaps have joined management training schemes.
All forms of work is honourable - however menial.
And all experience is valuable whether paid or unpaid. Our characters are built on our experiences as is our employability.