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Calvin Asks: How do I deal with a bad boss?
I started a job with an Electrician as an apprentice a few months ago. I'm 19 and finished college last summer. The man I'm working for is cutting corners, bodges stuff in and doesn't seem to care that he could be putting peoples lives and homes at risk. When I've questioned him on stuff that I think is wrong, he just fobs me off and says that I need to learn and no one ever strictly follows the regulations anyway. I'm scared if something goes wrong, I'll get the blame too.

I want to find someone else to work for but I'm worried he'll make it difficult for me? What can I do?

Junior spark - Dorset
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9 Replies
When you say ‘cutting corners’ and ‘bodging’ Stuff , do you mean a bit rough or actually dangerous?

there is a big difference between the two

i have worked with guys who are badgers rough but the work is still compliant 

Need more information 
1762 Posts
In the real world an electrician needs to make a profit, and customers all want a cheap job, so sometime we just chuck in a cable, such as in a loft where it is not seen and do not bother to clip it neatly. As long as it is not covered by loft insulation that may cause overheating then all is well. Out of sight out of mind. BUT if a safety issue is involved than that is a totally different matter, such as a lack or earthing, lack of an essential R.C.D., undersized cables etc.

How bad is the work that the electrician is doing? Is it likely to start a fire or give an electric shock? Or is it just untidy and not a neat install?

It is best of course that it complies with B.S. 7671 and is neat and safe. I do not agree with substandard work that can cause fires or shocks, or is unreliable.

Possibly the experienced electrician is doing things the right way as expected today in this competitive world. You are new and the work may be below your expectations but you are still learning, in many ways.

If you are really not happy then leave and find a new employer. Or just bide your time and learn what you can before moving on.



2355 Posts
This all rather depends - as others have alluded on the seriousness of the corners cut, on one hand technically, but also on the other there is supposed to be a degree of trust you have between you at a personal level.
If you don't get the feeling he is looking out for you, and takes the time to explain what he is doing, and then letting you take on increasing responsibility to push ahead and do bits on your own as you prove yourself, then the whole apprenticeship thing is not really working as it should.
You don't say how you got to be his apprentice, but I presume on paper at least it looked like a good idea at the time. If you have been going a few months, then you should be well enough acquainted by now.
Do you know how he perceives you, and the value he puts on your work and or your observations on his style ? You could do worse than ask..
In the end while this problem may seem like forever at the moment, your professional career will hopefully span some decades, and this is only a small stepping stone towards that, so it is worth asking if you are getting what you need from it - are you learning, are you sharpening your practical skills, even if that is learning what not to do as well as what to do...
IF the working relationship is really poisonous, then it needs to be ended, but that is a drastic step, and unless it is really intolerable, I'd suggest getting as much benefit/experience from where you are at now first, and seeing how you feel after Christmas, or Easter or some other specific future date.
Also, realsie that to anyone else who may take you on, someone who looks like they hop in and out of a job too quickly  is not a good prospect. However,  to say "I worked with XX for a year, and then outgrew that, as I was not getting the variety of experience I needed" sounds more sensible and  perfectly valid . Some folk have had 30 years  experience, and others have broadly repeated  the same few months of experience over and over for the last 30 years, and being able to tell which sort someone is, is really important.
What makes you think he will make trouble if you move on ? - has he said he would, and is his opinion especially respected by other local sparks ? - if you can ask anyone who was at college with you how they are getting on at other places, and see if this chap has a reputation or not, it may reassure you.
Also if you do end up leaving, try to do it with the least possible bad feeling, which I realize may be tricky, and involve a bit of biting of lip and not saying everything you are thinking, but for example give notice of your intentions in time for him to pick up a replacement, and explain that, so you are not remembered as the ###!!  who went off and left him in the lurch, and be prepared for a gap in income.

Lastly and immediately your comment about being held responsible for an accident, this is very unlikely, as the assumption, at your stage in career at least, is that you are being supervised and instructed, so mostly the buck is his to stop, unless you are truly negligent. If you are really bothered, keep a diary (at home !) so that if there ever is an event, you know which one and if it was one you were worried about at the time. (and you can honestly say ' I was asked to do it that way' if that is true.)

Chris Pearson
1664 Posts
First of all, even if you do get blamed for something, you are not the one who would be found liable to a court, competent persons scheme, or what have you. You are an employee so the buck stops with the company. As an apprentice, you are under training and will be expected to perform at that level and not at the time-served level.

If you are working for a large company, there is always the option of approaching your boss's boss, but that may not apply here.

I think that most us will have had at least one trainer over the years who has two left thumbs and I sympathise with anybody who is in that situation.

You certainly need to be careful how you question your boss's work. College may have taught you by the book, but any good trainer should be able to tell you why he (or she) does a particular task in a particular way. (This is, however, a rare skill.) A good trainer should also be aware of different ways of working and allow you to develop your own way of doing things.

You will have picked up some skills at college. You will also pick up skills with this boss, and may vow not to do things that way in future. You will move on at some stage and will find further ways of doing things. You will still be learning as a junior time-served sparks and hopefully will continue learning up to retirement. So at worst, this job will only end up being a small part of your life.

I thing that you have to grit your teeth for now. It pains me to say this, but you need to ask your boss how he wants you to do things, or show you how it should be done. He may think that you are a real PITA right now; but if you come round to his way of doing things, he may well think that actually you were prepared to listen and give you a good reference.

If the situation really is intolerable, could you get advice back at college?

Good luck!
As Mike says, in the last paragraph, unless you are really stupid and do something beyond your paygrade, dangerous or malicious your immediate boss is repsonsible for the work that you do and as such has a duty to develop your skills as well as a duty of care as an apprentice.
That brings me onto the 'skills' he encoraging you to develop.
Can you give  us some examples of the dodgy workmanship your boss is showing you?

Sorry Chris,you  posted while i was in the process of writing

BTW, Why has 'Calvin the engineer' been given an Admin badge?
Is this something we can apply for?
2355 Posts
"Calvin" is a creation of the admins, not  a real person, and is a solution to allow potentially embarrassing problems to be aired without being to obvious who is asking - after all, the difficult customer or the  'bad boss' may read these posts too, and may even offer advice, unwittingly. 
It is a very similar thinking to using the screen names, and maybe the demand for "Calvin" to voice the problems of others will fall now we have these.

The badges just reflect the status of the folk behind 'calvin' and his posts, its not really one person with a career that makes Mr Bean look fortunate, which is as well.

John Sim
70 Posts
After graduating from university I started with a company who had me on a 13 week contract where they could fire me instantly.   No notice, just get out the building now!   I did a lot of very good work for them during that time, ended up teaching the person who was supposed to be my superior how to work the software CAD tools better.   I was given more and more responsibility during that short time and more people with the company were coming to me for advice on how to fix or improve processes.   Or when something went wrong!

The wages were dreadfully low and the owner wouldn't even provide staff with a pen to use!   You had to bring your own, which my immediate superior would use expensive plotter pens instead because they couldn't argue with their purchase.   But you're a graduate and you need the work and experience.   You're in a really difficult and tight spot.

For me it came to a head when I had a meeting with the owner and he started ranting on about all the different employees he wanted to fire if he could!   I discretely warned one guy about what was said because we'd been friends (although he thought I had stolen the position from him, he never had the qualifications or skills to do what I could do), and it came back to me because he blabbed!   So you're right to be careful with who you talk to.   I managed to get out of that one because the owner had been ranting so loudly that I claimed everybody in the building could hear him!   Plausible enough.   And true.

At the end of my 13 weeks I was given several offers of pay rises but none were significant which would actually mean I could afford to live off, but I tried to get a reasonable return anyway.   Monday lunch time the boss of the products section asks me if I'll have a design project that they'd just given me a week earlier would be finished by Friday.   I said it would be tight as I was leaving on Wednesday.

Yes, I quit my job!   It's a liberating experience.   Hugely risky when you're young and I have to say that I had been for interviews in the last month way from this company, which they also made difficult wanting to know why I had requested a day off!   I got lucky as I got an offer to do a Ph.D. immediately after quitting.

The question, however, is what should you do?   You're in a very difficult position, if the work is dangerous then you have to say to your boss why.   You have to push back and be brave enough to push back.   State clearly why it is dangerous and say how it should be done.   If it's just that they're doing the job quickly, that's a different issue.   Personally I like to do a high standard of work and find efficient ways to ensure that you can keep at that standard by improving processes.

Ultimately if you're unhappy with the company you're working for you have to move.   I would be careful about quitting even though it worked out for me it's not something I recommend lightly.    Try to find somewhere to move to from job to new job rather than outright quitting.   But if the work is being left dangerous then you may have no other option, but ensure that you have stated to your boss first why you believe his work is dangerous.
Mark Exton
1 Posts
Make the most of a bad situation, turn it to your advantage.
Watch, listen and learn how NOT to do things. I have had my fair share of Bad/Deluded/Miss informed or ignorant bosses over the years and have made a point as a manager
not to recreate their mistakes. Sure I make my own mistakes, but I listen and I learn from them.
One day you will move on, take the experiences with you and have pride that you held onto your ethics and you maintained your standards under difficult conditions. 


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