It was expected that future ‘outsourcing’ of services (the Council did not like the word ‘Privatisation’) would result in a number of job losses. This was especially true for the catering services providing mass produced meals. The same number of people can produce 50 meals or 500 meals. It is just a matter of scale, and the large industrial caterers were more than used to this.
In an attempt to minimise job losses, Leeds City Council came up with a plan to try and train staff in threatened roles, to work as office staff. It was quite a big undertaking, but it was surprising how few ‘manual’ workers took up the option. It was posted in the monthly staff newsletter, but the program only lasted 1 year before it was closed down, apparently due to lack of support. The way it worked was this: one day a week for 15 weeks, a trainee would attend a variety of courses. These were, touch typing, business letter construction, Council finances, office etiquette and, although computers were few and far between, word processing. The problem where I worked was the availability of the newsletter. It first went around the 4 Care Officers (managers in a word) who usually had it for a week or so, before it was passed to the Care Assistants. There were 20 of those, so it was often out of date before the kitchen staff got their hands on it. However the newsletter in question that had the advertisement for the course, was left in the kitchen by one of the officers, so it was only by chance that I saw the advert. I applied and much to everyone surprise, I got on the course.
The courses went really well and I passed them all without much trouble. I did struggle with the touch-typing, but I had the speed and got away with it. Each course came with a certificate. They wouldn’t be much use to anyone outside the Council as they were not recognisable awards, but it was till nice to get something for the achievement.
Another aspect of the course was interview skills. We all were given a mock 10 minute interview and then we were given an assessment on where we went right or wrong. That proved really useful. One of the trainers was in constant touch with various personnel departments and they got the first notification of any suitable jobs coming up. Towards the middle of July, about 4 weeks before the courses were due to finish, a job came up that I was told that I would be suitable for. They arranged an interview and on the 26th July I found myself sat in the Parking Managers office explaining about my computer skills. I have to mention here that I had a personal computer at the time and was very proud that I had written a game, that had been published in a leading computer magazine. I explained about the need for accuracy whilst at the same time being prepared for boring repetition. I waffled on about being able to work in a team (catering) and being able to work alone (computer). Interview over, I went back to work. I was due to finish at 5pm that day but had been asked to stay until 6:30 to help with some entertainment that was happening that night.
When I finally got home, K**h told me that Car Park Section had rung and could I ring them at around 9am the next morning. I fully believed that I must have failed the interview and that they wanted to give me the feedback I had asked for. So feeling a little dejected, I rang from the phone in the APH kitchen. I’m told, that I changed colour during that call from my normal flesh colour through white to red. I had got the job, and after discussing the minimum period of notice (only a week surprisingly) I rang back to say I could start the second week of August.
This did not go down too well with the staff at the home. All wished me luck, but I could tell that they thought I was making a mistake. “You’re a cook not a typist” was one of the more often used phrases, along with “You won’t last five minutes sitting at a desk”. All this could have been true, but I knew that I was going nowhere in the current job, so really had nothing to lose.
So on Tuesday the 6th August 1990, with my expensive scientific calculator, fountain pen, pocket dictionary and lunchbox packed neatly into my new briefcase, I found myself back in the Parking Managers office having the office rules explained to me.
A new challenge had begun.