When I was 15-years-old, I took a two-hour train ride on my own from my home in Leamington Spa to London. I then navigated the tube underground system to get to the Tate Gallery to see an exhibition by Swiss artist Jean Tinguely. He is still my favourite artist to this day. And I wasn’t kidnapped, even though I was still a kid.
The reason I raise my non-kidnapping experience, is because I have realised that I have never been trained in kidnapping risks. Now you may well ask why I should ever be in need of a ‘talking to kidnappers’ 101 course. It is not as though I have worked in war zones (though I did once do a shift in a burger bar when I was 15 and I imagine that was pretty similar).
Picture my utter astonishment when I saw a recent tweet from Dr Cerian Griffiths, a legal expert on 18th century fraud and “contemporary financial misconduct”. The good Dr Griffiths was planning a trip from her university to the British Library in London. However, she alleges her institution required her to complete training before the rail journey. Her exasperated tweet from September 2 read “I’m trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare. In order to book train tickets to visit the British Library for one day, I need to undertake six training courses, including ‘Kidnap for Ransom’ and ‘Female Traveller Security’. I may just pay for the bloody tickets myself”.
My first response to the course “Kidnap for ransom” was – for or against? She reports being reassured that in her training she learnt: “Keep calm, 40 per cent of hostages are released unharmed”. That’s great then, I am more likely than not to be harmed. I can fully imagine some workplace health and safety wonk in a reflective jacket getting unnecessarily excited about “hazards” such as books falling from shelves and a failure to place a sign in the lavatory warning people that the hot tap is prone to emit hot water. However, I had no idea that readers going about their peaceable business furtively thumbing 50 shades of bondage rubber, or the Top 50 Australian prime ministers between 2007 and 2021, were at risk of being frog-marched out of the short loan section and into a waiting helicopter. This may explain the silence in libraries. Everyone has duct tape over their mouths.
Six training courses! Six! Merely to be allowed to go on a day trip to a city I managed to visit all on my own without mishap at the age of 15. Dr Griffiths gives an example of a scenario she must contemplate before travelling: “One of your kidnappers tells you that your company and government have given up on you, and you may be killed. What is your best response?” I know my response would be that death would at least be an escape from wasting my life answering that question.
How many hours of productive work are lost because somebody with an overactive imagination has made up a list of hazards that have a theoretical chance of actually happening about as great as Peter FitzSimons releasing a Christmas book entitled “101 reasons why we should retain the monarchy”.
Training staff is a good idea. Forcing employees to engage in time-consuming courses for “compliance” smacks far more of organisations covering their backs than providing any benefit to the individual concerned. Yes, some academics do get kidnapped, but only a handful, and only in countries experiencing significant civil unrest or run by hostile regimes. This blanket approach to training creates resentment, disengagement, and probably costs the organisation far more in lost productivity than they will ever mitigate should they get sued after one of their academics goes missing.
Jim Bright, FAPS, is professor of career education and development at ACU and owns Bright and Associates, a career management consultancy. Email to email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DrJimBright