The Apprentice

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I’m pretty sure most of us dread those team building events employers tend to force us to participate in every once in while. Icebreaker style activities are definitely not my bag. I’ve sellotaped balloons together to make the tallest tower. I’ve drawn portraits, described myself as a biscuit and answered many many quiz questions. It was kind of fun, but none of it ever affected team dynamics in any way.

One year, each team was required to make a team video a few minutes long to be aired at the staff conference. The HR team’s Oscar worthy parody of the apprentice narrowly missed out on the top prize, trumped by a hilariously bad film of one manager stood in a cupboard talking about his team’s role. I did, however, come second in the vote for best actress, solely attributable I’m sure to keeping a straight face while bellowing, “You’re Fired!”.

Of course last week the real Apprentice returned to our screens. I do think Lord Sugar’s character makes him worthy of tv but after ten years the show has become a parody of itself. I’m not sure where they managed to unearth this series’ bunch of power hungry back stabbing wanna be celebs. What is clear is that anyone worth their salt stopped applying at least five series ago when they realised that if you have any nous you’ll be the first to be witch hunted and humiliated.

These aren’t the apprentices whom the future of UK commerce is built on. They are the young people learning on the job in companies across the country for very little financial reward. What kind of example is it, showing them that success is proportionate to the amount of bodies you clambered over on the way to the top? Or that being prepared to sell your own mother, cheaply, is the surest way to a six figure salary? It’s veneration of this type of behaviour that led us to the financial crisis in the first place.

Saying that, the show’s formula, which has changed little, is hardly a proven model for hiring the ideal candidate. This year’s addition of four “secret” participants, revealed only during the first board room session was about as exciting as a damp squib and far from the overhaul needed to reflect modern business practices. Surely the skills of a door to door salesman are pretty much defunct in this day and age. While it makes good (if cringeworthy) telly to throw a bunch of self centred ego maniacs to the sharks, it obviously doesn’t make business sense.

I would like to see some normal people with great ideas properly mentored. One of the biggest downfalls of the Apprentice is that it doesn’t reward teamwork. Anybody lacking that essential skill isn’t going to survive in the corporate world. What about a real test of business skill by tasking the candidates to start a real business that runs throughout the series? I think a Corporate Social Responsibility task also wouldn’t go amiss, just to check some of them actually have hearts. I’d also like a British show that challenges the norm of the token ethnic minority candidates being scapegoated and subsequently all having been outed by week three. I won’t hold my breath.

It may be compelling viewing, but it’s also a satire. And a warning.

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