In the future, the people who spend their careers doing the same job will be historical curios, the workplace equivalent of a narwhal’s tusk. We’ll look at them, and marvel at how much careers have changed.
Technology has profoundly transformed the nature of the work we do. The Office for National Statistics predicts that 1.5 million British workers risk losing their jobs as a result of automation, with farm workers, waiting staff and shelf fillers notably at risk. At the same time, globalisation has decimated UK manufacturing, with jobs outsourced to developing nations with cheaper workforces and fewer labour protections. The rise of the gig economy has also seen a growing number of people in precarious, low-paid temporary work, without the perks of permanent employees: maternity leave, sick pay or a pension. What this means is that the halcyon days of a job for life are slipping away. The future is coming for us, whether we want it or not.
But it is not here just yet. There are still people who have proudly spent their entire lives with one company. What can we learn about the world of work from the most loyal employees?
Andrew Gomez, 80, Gieves & Hawkes, Savile Row
Andrew Gomez is pinning a summer jacket in navy-blue Italian wool, a silver thimble on his right forefinger, when I arrive. He has worked here, in the basement workshop underneath the luxuriously appointed showroom of Gieves & Hawkes, for 45 years.
After training as a tailor in his native Spain, Gomez came to Gieves & Hawkes in September 1974 looking for a job. They asked him to tailor a “full baste” – which means he had to half make a bespoke suit – as a test. After inspecting it, the manager asked him to come in the next Monday. “They fell in love with my work,” Gomez laughs.
He didn’t plan to spend his career at Gieves & Hawkes. But every time Gomez muttered about leaving, his bosses would give him a pay rise. “They said: ‘We’ll give you the money you want! No one else will pay you more than us. You’ll have a job for life.’” So he stayed.
Time passed. He was a speedy – and hard – worker. “No one ever complained about my work, or gave me anything back to redo,” he says proudly. “I always did my best.” He believes this is why he has lasted so long in the organisation. “You cannot just work for money,” he says seriously. “You have a responsibility to do a proper job. You have to make the effort every single day, otherwise the job will go wrong.”
Nearly half a century on, Gomez has made, by his own estimation, 15,000 jackets. But he isn’t ready to retire yet. “My wife and daughter tell me off all the time. They say: ‘Why do you work? Why don’t you retire?’ But I wouldn’t have anything else to do. I don’t want to stay home and be bored.”
The bar worker
June Hallworth, 81, the Davenport Arms, Stockport, Greater Manchester
The Davenport Arms – known locally as the Thief’s Neck – has been in Hallworth’s family for 87 years. She started behind the bar in 1957, when she began going out with John, who would become her husband. His father, Eric, managed the pub. “It was the first pub I had ever been in,” Hallworth remembers. “I’d come and stand at the bar when John was working. And then my father-in-law said: ‘It’s no use you standing there! Get behind the bar and get something done.’”
Bar work didn’t come easily to her at first. “I was a nervous wreck. People would be asking for drinks, and I didn’t understand what they meant.” With time came confidence. “I could stand up for myself and answer people back, rather than being meek and mild.”
John died 18 years ago. Hallworth’s daughter Yvonne runs the pub now. It’s an increasingly difficult trade to be in – more than 25% of British pubs have closed since 2001 – and Hallworth worries about Yvonne’s future. “John and I had the best years of it. Yvonne has struggled at times. She has gone through two recessions. Pub life isn’t easy. It’s hard work. You put in so many hours – it’s not an eight-hour day. You’ve got to be dedicated.”
Despite a life spent around alcohol, Hallworth doesn’t actually drink. “My husband used to ask: ‘Is there nothing you like the look of?’” Yet she has witnessed changing drinking habits: before, you’d struggle to get people out of the pub after last orders. “You’d have to shout at them to drink up. Now, people drink earlier. You can lock up more easily.”
Hallworth still does five two-hour shifts a week. She’ll carry food from the kitchen and pull pints, although she has stopped changing barrels. “I like the social side of it,” she tells me. “Being able to talk to people. Since my husband died, it has been a blessing for me to keep coming in here and meeting people, rather than being on my own.”
The pub still has customers whom Hallworth served in the 80s and 90s. “They say: ‘You don’t look any different, June.’ I say: ‘I must have looked like an old-so-and-so 20 years ago.’”
Although Hallworth never thought she would work in a pub her whole life, she is at peace with how things turned out. “I don’t know any other life. I’ve been quite happy.”
The bus driver
Neil Talbot, 56, National Express, Birmingham.
The first time Talbot saw a doubledecker bus, he remembers thinking: “‘Yes!’ It had always been a dream to drive a doubledecker bus,” he says. “I wanted to get into that chair.” He applied to National Express in 1990 and never looked back.
“I’ll be honest, I clipped a few car mirrors when I started,” Talbot admits. And passengers can be tricky. “You can get some very aggressive passengers,” he says. “Even when they’re shouting at you, you have to stay cool and calm.”
In 2013, Talbot took leave from National Express to do a six-month tour of Afghanistan as an army reserve sergeant. “I just loved that green uniform,” Talbot says of his parallel career. “I’ve always been interested in weapons. I thought: the only way to fire a gun is to be in the army.”
He loves his driving job because he’s a sociable person. “It’s really nice to be able to have a good talk with the passengers … a bit of banter. You can’t just drive like a robot and not say anything.” Almost everyone on Talbot’s route, the 94 from Birmingham to Chelmsley Wood, knows him. “They say: ‘You’re my favourite driver … what’s up?’ Everyone says hello to me.”
In 2017, Talbot qualified as a master bus driver, a title conferred by National Express on drivers with “an impeccable safety record and driving skills”. It was a proud achievement. “When you’re a master driver, you have to wear a white shirt and blue tie. People asked me about it, and I said: ‘As it says on the tin – master driver! I’m one of the best in the pack.’”
I ask him why he has stayed in the same job for nearly three decades. “You have to be passionate about what you’re doing. I think that’s why I’m still here. If I weren’t, I’d have gone ages ago. This is the job for me. I just love talking to the passengers. I’m a people person.”
And the best seat on the bus? “The driver’s seat,” Talbot laughs.
The school meals supervisor
Eileen Barrett, 69, St Ursula’s school, Havering, east London
After 43 years as a school meals supervisor, Barrett still turns up for work half an hour early every day to start making cakes by hand. Her favourite part of the day? Serving the children. “Especially when they come back and say: ‘Miss, can we have seconds?’ Your job feels worthwhile.”
Why does Barrett love her job so much? “It’s the babies! They’re lovely,” she says. “It’s just like cooking for your family.” Barrett’s grandchildren, Charlie and Chanel, went to St Ursula’s – but she is adamant that she didn’t slip them any extra treats. “They didn’t get any special treatment.”
When Barrett started, everything was prepared from scratch. They made meat puddings, mince-and-onion pie and toad-in-the-hole. The 90s marked the advent of processed food. But with Jamie Oliver’s healthy school dinners campaign in the 00s, the pendulum swung back. “We have gone back to how things were before,” Barrett says. “Fresh meat and fresh veg.” She welcomes it. “It’s a lot better for the children. Now, we hardly fry at all. Everything goes in the oven.” The one constant? Fish and chips on a Friday.
Technology, however, has transformed the job. Once, Barrett was one of a team of 11 school meals supervisors. Now, she leads a team of four, who make 290 meals daily. Every morning, the children will choose from three meal options on an iPad in their classrooms and the orders will then come through to Barrett. “I like the technology,” she says. “I found it quite easy to adopt.”
Barrett thinks she is a good employee because she never gave her bosses any trouble. “I go into work, do my job properly and help out where I can. If they needed me to cater functions now and again for visitors, I’d always say yes.”
Being around children keeps her young, she thinks. “I should have retired, but I don’t want to. Please, God, I want to go on as long as I can. That’s how much I love it. I don’t get bored of it.”
Barrett didn’t plan to spend her working life at the same school – things just turned out that way. “I never thought I would be here as long as this. I never gave it much of a thought. But since I loved working here, I never noticed being here for so long.”
Cecilia Anim, 71, sexual and reproductive health specialist at the Margaret Pyke centre, London
Anim moved to the UK from Ghana in 1973. It wasn’t always easy. “There weren’t many black people then,” Anim says. “There was a little bit of racism.” She trained as a nurse at Hull Royal Infirmary, where a patient once told Anim to “take my filthy black hands off her”. When she moved to the Margaret Pyke in 1979, patients would sometimes assume that Anim – the only black nurse – was a cleaner.
Why is Anim still working full-time at the age of 71? “I love my job,” she says. “I came to women’s health with this vision of wanting to make things better for my patients.” She is also loyal to her employers because they supported her when her daughter Ruth, who has learning difficulties, was born in 1985. “After I had Ruth, and went back to work, my manager said: ‘Whatever you need to make this work, we will support you.’” She pauses. “That’s one of my favourite memories from my career.”
Being in an organisation for all these years allows you to change things from within. “You learn about attitudes to employees, about workplace practices and how you can influence them.”
Anim rose within the ranks of the Royal College of Nursing, becoming its first black president in 2015. “I’m still walking on air from that!” she laughs. “It’s a great achievement, not only for me but for the other BAME people behind me.” She was given a CBE in 2017, in recognition of her contribution to nursing.
Anim is dismayed by the anti-immigration sentiment in the UK since the Brexit vote. “It’s created division and resentment … the rhetoric saddens me. If it was like that in the 70s, maybe I’d have upped sticks and gone back home. And that would have been a great loss.”
Does she have any plans to retire? “I will go when I’m ready. I’ve got the skills and, by the grace of God, I’ve got the strength and the energy. I still think there’s something I can contribute to healthcare.”