Keith Wimbles: Work & Me Blog (Part 1)

24 August 2020
A class photograph from 1960
Keith's Class at Lasswade Primary School, 1960. Can you spot him?

Employment is a serious topic at the moment.  It’s particularly important now because of job losses caused by the pandemic, and the impact on students’ learning and career prospects because of cancelled exams. There’s also much debate about the changing world of work, use of technology and increased working from home. So, many people are facing great uncertainty and potential hardship as our economy recalibrates to the new reality. Occupations and employment practices will evolve further following Covid-19, but will people be the primary consideration when designing work in the future? I really hope so.

As I approach retirement from full-time work in September, I’ve been reflecting on my personal employment journey. I’ve never felt comfortable calling it a career path because a career meant something more permanent when I was at school. People still talked about a job for life in the 1960s, whether you wanted to be a factory or shop worker, a teacher or a police officer.  Job security was the ultimate goal.

Brought up in Bonnyrigg, Midlothian, my family environment shaped my view of work.  My dad was a miner, my mum a part-time insurance agent and my grandad continued to work as a petrol pump attendant after retiring from his job as a gas works manager. So, like many other families, when I reached a certain age, I was expected to get a Saturday job to boost my pocket money, and to instill in me a strong work ethic.

My first paid job when I was 10 was delivering newspapers for the local shop. As I didn’t have a bike, I did the rounds on foot for a couple of years until a more exciting opportunity arose. I was pleased, but a bit anxious, about my next job delivering groceries for a shop located in a more affluent part of our town. It was a lovely old-fashioned shop with a mahogany counter owned by a woman who was very kind to me. I remember the wonderful smell of freshly ground coffee and whole meal bread as I loaded up the basket at the front of my bike. It was great to have a bike at last but it was old and very heavy, so I ended up pushing it most of the time to avoid falling off and ruining the groceries. Let me say, I know exactly how that young boy felt in the original Hovis TV advert! But, I still enjoyed delivering to the big houses and chatting to the older people who couldn’t do their own shopping. 

Next came an opportunity to work in the big city.  On Saturdays. I worked in the menswear department in Goldberg’s, a large popular department store in Tollcross, Edinburgh. It was a working environment much like Grace Brothers in “Are you being served?” with less camp and innuendo. In those days there were no tills on the shop floor.  I don’t think the sales staff were trusted with cash. Customers would pay you and you put the money and the invoice in a capsule and send it to the cashier department via suction and a plastic tube. Although I learned a lot about customer service and shop display, I wasn’t happy there because the permanent staff always treated the younger part-time staff disrespectfully. They never appreciated that young people are learning and need encouragement and support. This was to be a common experience in my retail years.

At school I was preparing for my Ordinary and later Higher Level exams with pretty unhelpful career advice. I was encouraged to focus on science and so I applied to Napier College. The outcome was that I chose a course unsuited to me and dropped out after three months.

Where to next?

Keith Wimbles
Chief Executive
Impact Funding Partners