Taking a trip down memory lane as our readers share stories about their first jobs

Do you remember what your first job was after leaving school?

Here, Talking About My Generation readers reminisce about their first-ever jobs, with memories of leaving school on a Friday afternoon to start their first shift the next Monday, making lots of tea as the brew boy and taking dinner orders.

Kevin Savage

“In the 50s I left school and got a job with Sherrat and Smith who were a Steel Erecting firm. I started as an apprentice (brew boy). I would have to get the erectors brew cans on a broomstick, a nail in either end to stop the billy cans from falling off. I’d take their brews back up to the erectors then get dinner orders and take them to Parker’s chippy to be ready by 11:30. The construction was working on what was to become Salford University.”

Parkers chippy, still open for business today.

Colin Royle

“Left school at 15 (1963) straight into a welding apprenticeship at Stuart Engineering at Patricroft. Didn’t learn a thing about welding, used more as a tea boy (£2.50 a week). Lasted a year and went to Portland Precast in Patricroft, a real sweatshop making Terrazzo tiles, to try and earn some better money. I did, but bloody hard work.”

Eccles Junction, Patricroft (1962)

Fae Sidhe

“1980s, Manchester City centre, placements in shops. I worked in a menswear shop where they had me scrubbing out the shirt display unit with a scrubbing brush and bleach. The manager refused to even provide rubber gloves – “Do it or you’re up the road”.

“My hands were bright red and swollen up for weeks afterwards. I was sent across town to the department store to buy women’s gloves (out of my own money) to hide the fact that my hands were like two red balloons, so I wouldn’t freak out the customers.
Summer in St Ann’s Square (1983)

“Neither a job nor an apprenticeship, strictly speaking. Thatcher replaced the apprenticeship system, recognised by employers everywhere with the YOP, (Youth Opportunities Programme) later the YTS, (Youth Training Scheme) which were recognised by no-one.

“Paid less than a third of your fellow workers, given all the dirty, difficult jobs: jobs none of the regular staff wanted. Training nonexistent, it was purely a means to massage the unemployment figures. It took keen, engaged young people and turned them into bitter, cynical angry dogsbodies.

“It taught us nothing, while working us beyond exhaustion with a lie: If we worked hard, we would get taken on permanently, but no-one ever did. When we finished our six months, we left at the end of the week and on Monday morning, our place was taken by another mug.”

St Mary’s Gate And The Arndale Centre (1977)

Jim Whelan (an excerpt kindly shared from What a Life! An Autobiography of Jim Whelan)

“I was sent to see the careers officer for Salford and when he asked me what I would like to do, I said that I would like to be a journalist as English was my best subject and I was an avid reader. He said “no lad you can’t do that” and picking a card out of a file said “here you are get down to Salford docks and ask for Captain Moore at Manchester Liners.” The Captain gave me the job, to start immediately after my 15th birthday on the princely sum of £15 per month…

“My job was to be office boy, which meant making tea twice a day for 20 blokes. I worked in the general office and one thing that sticks in my mind is that of the 20 chaps there, 16, including me, used to smoke cigarettes. In the winter with the windows closed to keep the heat in, the fog was so thick that you were hard-pressed to see across the room. In the 1950s everybody seemed to smoke, and I was no exception. My birthday was at the end of June, and I started work early in July, so I was a very young 15-year-old. This didn’t stop me from getting a bit cocky, especially with the crew members of the ships.”

Steve Halbert

“Divan bed maker, Cambridge Street Salford, £15 a week but topped up with change from the chippy run (Garys Place, Cottenham Lane).”

Moss Sunderland

“About 1934 or 35 my mother, Irene McMahon, left school and went into an apprenticeship to become a seamstress. She made raincoats. She absolutely hated the work but because of some type of contractual agreement, she was required to stay a certain amount of years… When the war started she volunteered to work in a munitions factory. The government was willing to void her contract in order to make her available for the munitions factory because it was considered high risk.”

Brian John Nicholson 

“RAF at 15. I joined up September 14, 1961. Pay was 2 pounds 19 shillings and 6 pence. They gave me 10 bob and kept the rest for holiday money. I enjoyed it.”

We would love to hear your memories of your first jobs. Email us at [email protected] or leave a comment.



  1. My first experience of work was in 1966 during the long Summer break between finishing my “A” Levels and starting my first year at University. I managed to get to the Holiday Camp in Minehead in Somerset from my home in Urmston. I think I probably I travelled with my two school friends on the train although possibly my parents were somehow involved in me getting there by road. it’s all a bit vague. I do remember that the return journey was definitely by train and involved multiple changes en route (carrying ten weeks-worth of luggage) because our departure had been delayed whilst they sorted out our final wage settlement.

    The three of us from Urmston were installed in a chalet with a fourth lad from somewhere in Scotland. We were employed as Dining Hall Porters and so, having been disturbed by the “knocker-up”, I commenced my first working day wielding a mop and bucket. The campers had their three meals a day in two sittings, so our time at the dining area began with our own breakfast before the first sitting of campers and finished with our evening meal after the second sitting had had theirs, which amounted to a very long working day with a couple of breaks in between meals.

    My time as a porter was fairly short-lived, as I soon moved on to become a waiter, mainly because the high attrition rate of staff due to resignations, meant that they quickly ran out of waitresses. I think we served forty people (three times a day) at each of two sittings, so we were kept rather busy. At first there were specific staff employed to reset the tables in between the sittings but we soon ran out of them and had to do that as well. In order to combat the wastage of staff, there was a bonus scheme in place which was forfeit, if you didn’t finish your contract period. Towards the end of the season, although almost everyone wanted to leave, the greater the accumulated bonus there was that was in jeopardy. As we got into September, things were so bad that Red Coats were being co-opted as waiters and even the Camp Manager and the Area Manager were behind the scenes in the kitchen plating out meals. As it gets colder and darker sooner in the year in Scotland, they even shipped a coach load of staff down from Ayr to bolster our numbers.

    Having worked for most of my life in the N.H.S. with its essentially “caring” ethos, I recall a very different work ethic that summer. It was a matter of management exploiting us and regularly forgetting to pay us our overtime and us filching extra food at any available opportunity. Overtime consisted of tea-pot washing (I dare not describe how we did that) and working as a waiter in a bar at night. As the wages were poor, there was a big incentive to be extra nice to your campers in the hope that they might either tip generously or treat you to a drink if they “accidentally” came across you off-duty.

    It wasn’t all bad. We did have the use of many of the facilities (e.g. overcrowded swimming pools) during our breaks and we met some interesting people. There were not only fellow UK students working their vacation but also a number of foreign students from a variety of countries I recall some Scandinavians and some Germans in particular, who taught me phrases in their respective languages and a lad called Luke, who taught me my first French expletive. A lot of the campers were genuinely nice and many of the permanent staff were interesting.

    Having fulfilled my contract, I returned home vowing never to return, although my two school friends actually went back for the following Summer. I think they moved on to a job brewing tea, which perhaps wasn’t as mind-blowing as waiting and so were willing to go back for more. For my part I had a lazy Summer that year and between my second and third years at University I managed to secure a placement at Withington Hospital getting experience in the kind of work that I would be taking up permanently the following year.


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