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Single Mum of teenage chef, affectionately known as The Brat. Have started a new life at the tender age of 44, embarking on a relationship with my childhood sweetheart... I know cliche central, but so far it works for us! New job, new friends, new challenges. Life's GOOD!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

It Just Pisses Me Off Is All............

Can someone explain to me why tradesmen (in particular - though the phenomenon is probably not limited to them), feel that it is absolutely necessary to demonise and bully the apprentices under their control?

Please don't tell me that it's just the way it is, that it "builds character" and allows young people to learn confict resolution skills. 'Cos that's just bullshit! It shouldn't be, it doesn't and it absolutely doesn't. All it does is drive young people out of trades, and perpetuates a cycle of bullying that should not be allowed to continue.

When I started as an apprentice chef (back in the dark ages), I was bullied mercilessly by the 4th year I was hired to ultimately replace (once he qualified and became unaffordable). His rationale (and he was quite open about it), was that he had been treated like shit, now he had the power, and he was going to make me every bit as miserable as he had been. WTF? First I took up smoking to relieve the stress (yes I was young and stupid - as apprentices are wont to be), then left altogether, never completing my apprenticeship. There were additional reasons for my chucking it in, but the culture of bullying was the predominant one. 30 years down the track, not only is this still going on, but it appears to be considered perfectly acceptable.

Admittedly my first hand knowledge is centred on hospitality and in particular chefs. I don't doubt that there is a similar problem in other trades and industries, just as I don't doubt that there are qualified tradies whose aim is to actually get the best from their apprentices without these ridiculous tactics. Sadly, I think that most chefs will employ these hard-arsed tactics. It's unnecessary and given the already difficult nature of the industry (unsociable hours, crap pay, etc,), completely unacceptable.

Only what the hell do you do about it? Apprentices don't have a union. The private apprenticeship mob who looks after The Brat (yeah in case you hadn't guessed , this is about The Brat), will always take the side of the employer - because without the employer they don't make any money. As a parent, I feel infuriated and helpless. How do I deal with this? How do I cope with my kid being miserable in a job, when he really likes the actual work and is potentially good enough to reach the top of his field.

I have employed the usual platitudes - "Don't let it get to you", "It's wrong, but that's the way this industry is and you have to learn to live by their screwed up rules", " You'll be qualified in 15 months, keep your head down, don't give them an excuse, you'll get through it". It's all crap! He shouldn't have to put up with it. I have brought him up to stand up for himself against bullies, and now as he becomes a young man, I tell him to throw his upbringing out the window, and just shut up and take it! Again WTF?

The Brat is a good kid. He's clever, he's funny, he has impeccable manners (when the situation warrants it), and he will do anything for anyone. He's also quick tempered, a bit (okay a lot) of a smartarse, sometimes drinks too much, and sometimes gets aggressive, (not related to drinking too much, and he is not prone to violence against other people - only walls and windows and the like). When a chef tells him that he wants to punch him in the face, he responds with "so fuckin do it fuckhead". This leads to a written warning for unprofessionalism and lack of respect for senior staff. WTF? Do you respect anyone who threatens to punch you in the face? Why does the chef who makes the threat (and make no mistake this is a threat) have no consequences. What do any of them hope to achieve? It's not going to make him a better Chef, it won't improve his cooking skills, or teach him how to handle staff, or how to order and maintain stock, or any of the myriad other skills he will need to become a professional in his chosen field. So what's the fucking point?

More importantly..... how do we deal with it? The Brat is 18, a year ago I had the power to intervene because he was a minor (I didn't until the situation became dangerous, by the way!). Now unless specifically invited by one or more of the parties involved, I have to keep my nose out of it. I don't want to fight The Brats battles for him anyway, as I said I have brought him up to stand up for himself (without violence). Kinda makes me think it's my fault really, if I hadn't, he might be more inclined to just take the crap that's dished out, which by the way wouldn't reduce  the bullying, but might lessen the consequences of "answering back". FFS he's not a 5 year old being told to clean his room and giving Mum a mouthful of cheek. He's a young adult, trying to learn a trade and make an honest living, and learn how to get on in the world. A world full of contradictions and confusion.

Here's a scenario:

The Brat works 10 am to 10 pm (ish). He gets a 2 - 3 hour break if he's lucky. During that time he goes to the pub, and has a couple of drinks. Later that day he injures himself badly with a knife. Emergency room staff stitching him up smell alcohol, and report it, thus voiding any possible workcover claim, and losing him his job. He's fucked! But he doesn't understand why, because on his first day in the job, Chef took him to the pub and bought him drinks! And that's not the only time either. How do you convince this young man that this is how it's going to play out. Surely if that was the case, Chef would never have taken him to the pub, thus implying that it was okay to have a few drinks during the working day, then go back to work and play with knives and fire and potentially explodey things. Guess what? Chef will deny all, point to the line on The Brat's contract that forbids alcohol consumption, and escape any consequences. The Brat is Fucked.

Chefs and other tradies/bosses or anyone responsible for teaching a young person, need to take responsibility. Chef, this is my kids life you are screwing with. YOU spend more time with him than I do. Treating him like shit is not going to build his character. It's going to make him angry, and resentful. A handy coping mechanism will be alcohol (mine was nicotine), I already see it.... after a particularly shitty day, he feels like he needs to drink to drown it out. That's fucking scary folks! It's also NOT a behaviour he learned in the home, just in case you believe those government sponsored advertisements that would have you believe that your drinking habits are the reason your child/ren will be problem drinkers. (If that theory held water, The Brat would be a smoker, and would have a drink maybe once or twice a year on special occasions).

Help me out here folks, I'd be particularly interested in hearing the other side of the story if anyone's keen.


  1. How much mobility to change trades/jobs is there in Oz? I always read about working youth being 'apprenticed' (we used the same system here, but it was a couple of centuries ago). Makes it sound like a kid is apprenticed to the wheelwright or the cooper and he or she can never switch trades. Not condemning the system, just curious.

    I'd guess the bullying between master and apprentice is fairly common. It's a cycle that'd be hard to break. Doesn't make the situation right, nor does it foster a good learning or work environment.

    I got nothing in the way of miracle answers for your situation. Sorry!

  2. YD: Once upon a time, if you were apprenticed to a tradesman, that person would be your employer for the term of your indentures, (as in indentured servant). Once you had a trade, you probably wouldn't bother to look for anything else, though eventually you would set up your own business I suppose.

    It's not quite that rigid now of cours. My Dad is an electrician by trade, completed his apprenticeship (about 4 years I think), worked as a sparky for a few years, then joined the RAAF in a completely different trade. I myself quit my apprenticeship midway through, although had I been passionate I could probably have transferred my indentures to another employer.

    In this case, The Brat has actually already worked for a number of employers. The scheme he does his apprenticeship with (BTW: basically just a 3 - 4 year term, depending on the trade, where you get paid crap and treated like shit until you learn your craft), encourages the kids to try different restaurants, different cooking styles etc., so it's likely he will move on in the next couple of months anyway. The biggest problem is that he'd really like to move on good terms, not be kicked out because someone doesn't like him/his attitude or whatever. He's actually a very good cook, and works hard. He has an awful lot to learn though, because being a chef is about more than being a good cook. How is he supposed to learn when those in charge of teaching him are more interested in feeding their own ego's thatn passing on valuable skills and knowledge.

    As an aside, this situation is not unique to The Brat. Given the unsociable nature of the industry, most of his (limited) social life revolves around other hospitality workers, particularly apprentice chefs. At current count there are at least half a dozen (that I know of), in the same position.

  3. Did that scenario actually happen or is it a rhetorical question?

    I did a lot of waitressing when I was a lass and chefs are and were temperamental narcissistic bastards.

    My spouse works in the building industry and the bullying is rife there, too. I heard a show on youth suicide on ABC radio (probably radio Nat) which said that apprentice tradesmen were the highest risk of suicide of any profession. The show was done shortly after two youngsters jumped off buildings rather than continue with life as it is.

    If I knew how to change the behaviour of others my family would all be sane and functional and nobody would have any addictions or personality problems.

    All you can really do is either help him find another work situation or else give him some guidance in people management and conflict resolution skills. Which means maybe hunting through Borders for a good book on the subject. Or finding a good workshop on conflict resolution/communication skills and taking both of you off to that.

    Unfortunately, when you allow some fuckwit to provoke you into accelerating the conflict with a 'Fuck you' or a 'Go ahead, hit me' response is, we are, ultimately, playing into their hands.

    It's a complex skill set, learning to deal with difficult people, and if he loves his work, he'll be motivated to find ways to deal with it.

    Other than the communication aspect of it, the other thing is stress management and that's different for everyone. I started with martial arts as a teenager and these days yoga, swimming and walking the dog work for me.

    If it was my kid I'd take them off to a psychologist to learn some strategies for dealing with the goons.
    That's their area of specialty and they do it well.

    It is amazing what happens when you learn not to take the bait and feed their need for drama. Sooner or later baiting you becomes dull work and they either stop the BS or they find another target.

  4. You know that as the child of a veteran, you're entitled to a certain amount of free counseling for you, and I think for your son, at VVCS? (Veterans and Veteran's family's counseling service @spring hill)

    They do workshops on anger management, stress etc and they're really very good. ARAFMI do some good workshops too.
    Something I've tried to grill into my nieces is that the work skills are only a part of the job - the life skills and the communication skills are the things that will really make the difference as to what you get out of it.

  5. Quokka,

    1st half of the scenario happened. It worries me enormously that these kids are allowed and even encouraged to drink by their bosses, but if something goes wrong, I'm pretty sure the apprentice will be fed to the sharks.

    About the counselling.... no I wasn't aware that was the case, although you may have mentioned in connection with another topic a couple of months back. I will look into it, but probably if The Brat were to consent to any form of counselling he would prefer to go back to our GP who has known us since The Brat was an infant, and has helped us both out in the past.

    I have personally had bad experiences with Psychologists and would be reluctant to go down that path again, or subject him to it. I WILL however make some enquiries.

  6. My experience of work place bullying came courtesy of Queensland Health, but the culture was identical: "We suffered to get here, if you want to be where we are, it's your turn to suffer."

    There's nothing fair or reasonable or logical about it, and yes it is incredibly damaging and counter-productive.

    But Quokka's right.

    You're not going to change the system. If Psychologists and their ilk freak you out, there's heaps of stress management options: martial arts, yoga, just walking in the fresh air, swimming, meditation etc. etc. You can't change how the workplace is for The Brat, but he can control how he responds and feels about the shit. Best of luck to you both.

  7. GPs used to freak me out because I'd had so many bad experiences with them. Doesn't stop me going for pap tests etc every year though. There are thousands of counselors out there, so odds are good that its like finding a good car mechanic or a house cleaner - often you find a good one by word of mouth.

    have you had a chance to dig around in Borders yet for a book on conflict resolution skills? the Bloke said that there's a Dymmocks that has opened up right opposite where the old cinemas used to be, opposite the Myer Centre.

    Definitely worth a browse.

  8. BTW if you want a good book on managing anxiety/stress, I found a great book called 'Change your thinking' by Sarah Edelman. Its an ABC publication so they should have it in the ABC stores but borders carries it too.

    Its a favorite with some of the VVCS counselors so might give you some insight into where they're at, too.

  9. Morgana,

    I know you're right, and I'm sure he'll muddle through and be fine. It just hurts so much to be helpless when your kid or any loved one is hurting.


    I am planning a trip to Dymmocks in the city, unless they have one at Carindale, because I relly want to read some of JB's books. I will keep an eye out for the one you have mentioned while I'm there.

  10. years ago a friend gave me a handy little book entitled 'How to spot a bastard by his star sign'.

    Keep an eye out for it.

    Oh, that and a little book called '50 boyfriends worse than yours'.


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