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Bad jobs

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It is natural to feel down about work at the beginning of January. Perhaps you don’t have a job, and if you do, you might hate it. It’s dark in the mornings and dark again when you leave for home; the next holiday is a long way off and you don’t get paid for ages.  Pretty miserable all round then.

But before you dust down your CV, try to put matters into perspective. Is your job really all that bad? Below are interviews with six people with jobs many may consider to be pretty awful, in which they are asked about the worst things they have to do at work, how much they get paid and whether they enjoy their jobs despite everything.

The dog-food taster

Philip Wells says the firm uses ‘human-grade freshly prepared raw food’ in its recipes.

The job: Tasting dog food to ensure it meets a premium brand’s exacting quality standards.

What it involves: Opening sample tins of each freshly made batch of dog (or cat) food, smelling it and eating it. “Although dogs’ palates are different to ours, taste is an important quality check to ensure each different ingredient is perfectly balanced in just the right way,” says Philip Wells, the chief taster for Lily’s Kitchen pet food. “Trying the food is also a good way to pick up on the nuances of the cooking; this works especially well on the dry kibbles.”

Typical salary: £20,000 for an entry level job in the quality department. However, Wells says £50,000 or more is “easily achievable” for an experienced technical director who, as well as tasting products, is also likely to be responsible for developing new recipes and advising the business on technical and regulatory matters.

Worst part of the job: The deadlines, for Wells, who admits he quite likes the food. The meat used in pet food has to be derived from animals passed as fit for human consumption, under the Animal Feed Regulations 2010, and he says the firm uses “human-grade freshly prepared raw food” in its recipes. He says: “There are some pretty gruesome pet foods out there and although I don’t taste them, the smell is enough to turn the stomach when I do a bit of market research.”

Job satisfaction: “No two days are ever the same.” It’s rewarding, Wells says, that a project he has worked on will “help pets to become happier and healthier”. However, he acknowledges that some of the credit must go to another “key member” of the tasting team; Lily, the border terrier.

Expedition leader for a group of teenagers

Vanessa Johnson’s charges often express ‘surprise’ at the cold showers and humble toilet facilities.

The job: Leading groups of 15- to 18-year-olds through testing experiences overseas that demand high levels of physical fitness.

What it involves: Motivating and looking after inexperienced teenagers in tough, unfamiliar environments, far away from their usual creature comforts. “For many young people it is the first time they have had to face the responsibility and consequences of their actions,” says Vanessa Johnson, a World Challenge Expedition leader, who takes groups trekking over Kilimanjaro. “My job is to try to make sure it happens in an unseen envelope of reasonable safety.”

Typical salary: Depending on experience, you can earn £1,200 to £2,500 for a four-week-long expedition. Each teenager pays £4,900 – so expectations are high.

Worst part of the job: Sorting out injuries and illnesses. “I had two Australians once who climbed on a rooftop for a lark – forgetting that, if they had fallen, we were two days away from medical assistance and all the comforts of a developed hospital,” says Johnson. Her charges also often express surprise at the cold showers and humble toilet facilities.

Job satisfaction: “I like seeing individuals return home with a reformed attitude to their life and an improved understanding of the worthlessness of many ‘essential’ material possessions,” says Johnson.

Hygiene technician

The job: Disinfecting areas that have potentially been exposed to bio-hazardous situations.

What it involves: Cleaning up crime scenes, road accidents and suicides. Clearing hoarders’ houses full of rubbish, rats and excrement … among other things. “The job is about keeping people safe,” says Richard Lewis, a hygiene technician for Rentokil. “We deal with some very disturbingly dirty sites.”

Typical salary: The entry level salary is usually around £14,500 and a top salary can be up to £22,000.

Worst part of the job: Cleaning up after suicides. “You get used to the job being disgusting but the emotional side of it is still hard.” You learn not to take your work home with you, he says. “You also need to have a sense of humour, as some days can be tough.”

Job satisfaction: Lewis finds the variety of tasks exciting. “One day I’m cleaning up after a dead body, another day I’m in a prison cell, or 100 feet in the air being lowered down into a silo to clean it.” He also takes pride in the transformation he brings about: “It’s satisfying to return a potentially hazardous site back to a safe environment. And it benefits society.”

Biogas engineer

You have convince poor communities that crap can be productive,’ says Baburam Paudel .

The job: Setting up biogas plants in developing countries.

What the job involves: Linking a system of digesters – which can be filled with human excrement, animal dung and other waste products – to toilets to produce a biogas that can be used for cooking and lighting. “You have to know what size and shape the mixing pit needs to be, how to create the optimum temperature for digestion and where to situate the biogas plant,” says Baburam Paudel, chief technical officer in Nepal for the charity Renewable World. “You also have convince poor communities that crap can be productive – many are repelled by the idea of connecting their toilets to their kitchens.”

Typical salary: An entry level salary is around £10,000 while a typical salary for a chief technical officer is £30,000.

Worst part of the job: For Paudel, it’s seeing people struggling to survive on very little income. But, he admits, anyone who won’t change a nappy would struggle. “You have to be willing to get your hands dirty during the build process and inspections. Unsurprisingly, the anaerobic digestion (the process that takes place when bacteria eat the decomposing waste and produce methane) smells like rotten eggs. It can be disgusting and there is no room for mistakes.”

Job satisfaction: “I find it immensely satisfying to know that I am helping people to increase their incomes and allowing girls to attend school by replacing the need to collect firewood,” says Paudel. “My work improves the health and hygiene of whole communities.”

Eel ecologist

The job: Conserving the critically endangered European eel.

What it involves: To monitor the size of the endangered eels ecologists wade into the Thames and other London rivers and marshes full of eels, sometimes up to their armpits, and reach into a net filled with up to 20 adult eels to grab one with their bare hands. “Adult eels can be a metre long or even larger, and weigh up to 2kg. They’re not at all dangerous but they are almost pure muscle and they can be a little bit slimy,” says Stephen Mowat, an eel conservationist and ecologist for the Zoological Society of London. “We have to weigh and measure them, and they wriggle, a lot. It’s difficult to look professional while crawling on the ground chasing an eel across the grass.”

Worst part of the job: “Eels are really tricky creatures to work with – and getting outsmarted by an eel can be quite embarrassing,” says Mowat. “You also have to be ready to jump from one project to the next. I once had to dissect a tub of dead eel guts (and stomach the smell) to examine parasites living in their swim bladders, moments before jumping into a suit for a meeting with government officials. I remembered to wash my hands.” But for Mowat, the worst part of the job is definitely not handling the eels – he believes baby eels (known as elvers) are “as cute as pandas”: “The worst thing about the job is regularly learning how much damage we, the British population, are doing to the environment.”

Job satisfaction: “Getting to work outdoors and seeing British wildlife up close is the best part of the job,” says Mowat. “Eels are beautiful creatures and working with eels doesn’t just benefit the eel, it helps whole river systems, estuaries and coastal habitats. That is something worth working on.”

Shopping channel presenter

The job: Selling and demonstrating a wide range of products on live TV.

What it involves: Presenting hours and hours of monotonous content, while simultaneously demonstrating the products and appearing to be enthusiastic and knowledgeable about everything that you’re selling. “I prepare and research as much technical and practical information as possible on every single product beforehand,” says Shaun Ryan, presenter for Ideal World TV. “But you also need the ability to relate to every genre of products and to every viewer.”

Typical salary: A trainee presenter would start on a minimum of £30,000, while an experienced presenter can expect over £55,000.

Worst part of the job: “The unsociable hours,” says Ryan. “An experienced presenter like myself generally gets to work primetime hours which means all weekends, bank holidays and very late evenings, plus the occasional 5am shift.” His worst task ever, he says, was singlehandedly having to sell some female slimming pants with a breathable gusset: “It was a very tricky hour and not my finest.”

Job satisfaction: “I love the rush of live presenting and having to think on my feet every second,” says Ryan. “I also get an adrenaline rush of knowing that, at times, I have thousands of viewers ordering the product that I have just been presenting.”

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