Lockdown diaries: the sales apprentice

At some point or another most apprentices will have suffered from an inferiority complex. Caught in a no man’s land between employed and yet not fully employed, we occupy a precarious position. So when the coronavirus pandemic hit home, quite literally, you can imagine how that voice which reminds me of my inadequacy (however imagined) was turned up inside my head.

As a sales apprentice at HarperCollins whose primary role is to liaise with various retailers and wholesalers, processing and tracking orders, the news that all non-essential shops including bookstore chains and high street stores had closed down was a real blow. With orders either being pushed backed or cancelled, I quickly began to sense a long drought coming on. With less and less to do at work, the fear of being told that my very short journey into publishing was coming to an abrupt end was increasing.

And then came the dreaded F-word – furlough. Being advised to take furlough leave was retranslated in my head (with the amplified boom of Big Brother narrator Marcus Bentley’s voice) as: "You have been evicted from the publishing industry, please leave immediately." Initially furlough cemented those anxieties of feeling less than, not belonging, and unworthiness. But as I was trailing through the news as I normally do, I read an article in The Guardian that the number of people claiming unemployment benefits increased to 2.1 million in April, a reflection of rising job losses across the country.

This small article seemed to put things into perspective for me. Whilst hundreds and thousands of people were being told that their employers could no longer keep them on, I was merely being told to take some much-needed time out. I realised that furlough was an opportunity for gain rather than loss. I’ve focused my time on attending various webinars including Social Media Strategy Mapping, an Introduction to Digital Marketing and those hosted by The Bookseller such as ‘Hiring in A Time of Coronavirus’. This has also been an excellent opportunity for me to put more effort and time into carrying out my work-related project which is a part of the Publishing Apprenticeship at LDN.

Nor have I been completely cut off from my colleagues. Between uplifting WhatsApp chats, impromptu quizzes and weekly video calls, I’ve felt more connected than ever to my publishing team.

Along with a change of mindset and the support of my colleagues, I no longer equate furlough with eviction but rather, conviction. The conviction that all the new knowledge and skills I have gained from various webinars, the effort that I have put in to completing my apprenticeship project ,and the bonds I have developed with my colleagues have ultimately made me a better employee.

Far from being evicted, I have been called back to work. I feel refreshed and am raring to go. My message to anyone who may still be in furlough is to ask yourself, ‘What do I stand to gain rather than lose?’

Yazmeen Akhtar is a sales apprentice at HarperCollins, hoping to bring the wonder and magic of stories to all people by making the publishing world a diverse and inclusive space.