When one of the contestants on this year’s The Apprentice favourited one of our tweets about the series, we were flattered (we are human) and intrigued. As we’ve often wondered how the experience feels on the other side of the screen, we plucked up the courage to ask. And as – to our pleasant surprise – the contestant in question, Katie Wright, did not rebuff our request, we’re delighted to present below her answers to our questions about the series and her experience of taking part in it.

(You can also read Katie’s Personal Learning Profile in the Guests section of this blog.)

Our thanks to Katie for agreeing to take part in this Question and Answer session, and for her thoughtful and honest answers – and our best wishes to her in her future career. And if any other candidates from this year’s series are reading and would like to comment – or even volunteer for a Q&A Session of their own – we’d be delighted if they would Contact Us.

An obvious – and impertinent – question to start would be “What were you thinking?” Putting that more kindly, how did the experience of being on The Apprentice compare with your expectations? And how true a picture do you think the viewing public get of the candidates’ experience, given that it’s edited down to an hour? Did you feel like your contributions were represented fairly in what was broadcast?

The quick answer is ‘a momentary lapse of common sense’. The longer answer is that I wanted the opportunity to test myself. For years I had watched the show and ‘armchair audited’ the candidates. I knew it was always going to be tougher than it looked but rationalised that the pros must outweigh the cons.

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Books that take a big picture theme and attempt to explain it clearly, preferably with a sprinkling of anecdotes, are in vogue. Alain de Botton recently brought us Religion for Atheists, while Sunstein and Thaler brought us Nudge, which proposed a ‘third way’ (while trying not to call it that) between paternalism and libertarianism. Amusing us with tales of insects painted onto urinals to encourage a sense of direction, they also took aim – in a more metaphorical sense – at behavioural economics, explaining how a cheese and wine party hosted by ‘Econs’ might turn out. (Fabulously for those who look primarily for efficiency as the sign of a good party, it would appear.)

Masters of Management, a fairly updated version of the earlier The Witch Doctors (an absolute classic, available from Amazon for £0.01 at time of writing, and still eminently readable), shares this ever-so-slightly-down-the-bridge-of-one’s-nose view of the labouring millions, as one might expect from a writer schooled by The Economist. There are one or two things that the reader has to take for granted -not least that this is a by-product of The Economist, and that free market theories will be politely and eruditely defended while egalitarian tendencies can expect criticism. But a few sacred cows are declared fair game along the way, and if not exactly slaughtered then at the least given quite a public carpeting. And the wider world also makes a welcome intrusion. Though it’s not the kind of book to use such a flippant example, were it to view, say, Cabaret through economists’ eyes, it wouldn’t stop at commenting on the skilful deployment of a low-cost pool of creative labour (the turns), the ironic brand-positioning (the band), and the approach to a potentially hostile demographic (selling drinks and ‘services’ to the SS). It would also point out that the rise of fascism and the advent of war was going to have a disastrous impact on more than just the bar’s P&L account.

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A while ago, on a bulletin board that can remain nameless (to protect posters’ identities, and as its actual digital whereabouts is irrelevant to my point), someone started a thread that commented on their rootless, international upbringing and asked the simple question “Where do you call home?”

The answers were intriguing. Although some were geographic or family based (ie home is where yougrew up or where your parents live, if they still do), many were not and explored what we mean by ‘home’ – not the same word, or the same associations, as ‘heritage’. Some responses mixed the two, for example:

Aberystwyth, on the Welsh coast, where I lived for five years as a student and lecturer and whose faded Victorian beauty, rugged surroundings and adorable people make me feel instantly secure and integrated the second I go back, which I do at least four or five times a year.”

Others were far more concerned with what ‘feeling at home’ actually feels like and the different ways we can experience it:

  • Wherever i feel safe and comfortable.
  • Anywhere that contains George, some plants I have grown and a pile of books could be home.
  • There used to be an old Goth/Alternative club […] where I worshipped weekly back from the early till the mid-nineties. Until now I’d forgotten just how safe and happy I felt there with all the sights, sounds and of course the lovely people within. It’s a place that helped shape my formative character just as I was part of what shaped its. It was home and I miss it.
  • […] Which, presumably, is why we refer to favourite bars, clubs, cafes and the like as ‘homely’ – we don’t really mean ‘domestic’, we mean ‘comfortable’ in the truest sense: places we feel like we belong. It can even be somewhere you’d never been before – I’m thinking of a tapas bar in Perpignan and a now long gone art gallery in Leicester. Home is a connection we feel through more than just our feet.

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When I graduated in 2010, I assumed – in retrospect, naively – that my grades, extra curricular activities and the fact that I had worked through university would qualify me for full time graduate employment. How wrong I was…

You see, if you want to secure a graduate position, having a degree is only half of the battle. In fact, according to a recent study, maybe even less so. The findings state:

Many recruiters commented that irrespective of the academic results that a graduate had achieved, it would be very hard for an applicant to demonstrate the skills and competencies that they were looking for if they’d not had any prior work experience.”

Martin Birchall, MD of High Fliers, the recruitment firm that conducted the research, said that:

Today’s report includes the stark warning that in this highly competitive graduate job market, new graduates who’ve not had any work experience during their time at university have little or no chance of landing a well-paid job with a leading employer, irrespective of the university they’ve attended or the academic results they achieve.”

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It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it ...From some recent posts, you might think we were either consistently sceptical about the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) or picking on them for some social media kudos. We do understand the merits of keeping our fingers on the zeitgeist and cutting a certain profile, even if we haven’t necessarily mastered it (a quick ‘back of a calculator’ moment indicates we’re 9,250 hours short of the mythically required 10,000 hours), so today we are going to use the ‘f’ word in the opening paragraph. Yes, fairness. And we’re going to applaud John Philpott, CIPD’s Chief Economist. You might want to sit down.

At CIPD’s Annual Conference in Manchester, delegates heard employment minister Chris Grayling calling for employers – and their HR functions – to support the government in providing ‘good work’ and to support the Government’s Work Programme. (As you would imagine, there’s been commentary: here and here, for example.)

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As you’re probably aware, CIPD recently rolled out their new campaign designed to entice fresh graduate talent into HR. The campaign slogan is, bewilderingly: “Think HR. Think again!” Now, I’m going to go right ahead and assume that the team that gave shape to this fiasco are no spring chickens, but surely someone that they ran this past might have clocked the fact that, to a young audience, it comes off sounding rather dismissive of the industry. I’m a recent graduate and my first impression was that they were trying to dissuade me from entering the industry at all costs.

In fact, I have a number of problems with this bungled attempt at appealing to a young audience. Firstly – and I’ve mentioned this before – appealing to young people in this way is condescending. Making HR seem ‘wacky’ isn’t going to attract a young audience. Most graduates grew out of ‘wacky’ when they grew out of watching Fun House. The only way this campaign could be have been further from the mark would be if CIPD had dressed a group of HR officials in baggy jeans and hoodies, called them the ‘Human Assetz Krew” and had them dance around happy slapping each other and rapping about the industry.

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Young things need nurturingI weighed 2lb 2oz when I was born, seven weeks prematurely, in nineteen-hundred-and-do-I-have-to-confess? Without incubators, I almost certainly wouldn’t be here. Other than for those who wish I wasn’t (I’m guessing most of us have been there!), a reason to be grateful for innovation. And to remember that new things – life forms, ideas, newly acquired learning – can be fragile: their chances don’t always depend solely on their own optimism. And the kind of reflection that can be randomly triggered – in my case, by starting to read Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From. (A full review may follow if time allows me to finish reading it.) What really caught my attention in the book was not just the story of the introduction of incubators, but also a more recent issue that made me think of parallels with HR and management struggling to maintain an engaged workforce in testing times.

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