By Evelyn Antony
University students often face the struggle of balancing work alongside studies and social commitments. This is a well-known fact. How are employers changing to accommodate students’ ever-demanding studies and full timetables? Are students expecting employers to be more understanding of their busy lives? How can students and employers work effectively together, rather than against each other? These are questions that have pondered on students’ minds, including mine. Maintaining positive relations with employees that are “young and new”, depend upon the nature of the job and the industry they work in.
In fact, most students find themselves working in retail or in the hospitality industry, until they build up their CV and employability skills. Moving up the job ladder at this stage can be hard, especially in a high-pressure environment when you’re new.
So why do students want to work in the first place? Surely all students need to pay their way through university. What else may be their motivation to work? Some sensible students want to start saving for their future, once they graduate. Other students prioritise the new changes that universities bring, the new chapter in their lives. Underestimating the expenses involved in going out and ordering food seems to be a common pitfall students fall into. Suddenly, there’s a cash flow problem and you need to get a job.
Employers want bright and innovative young people, yet the struggle for many students doesn’t lie in finding a job but sustaining a job. In recent times, employers in higher education offer jobs with suitable working patterns (flexitime) that suit students – the same sector, thus more understanding employers. However, jobs in retail and hospitality are fast-paced and often require students to take on shifts as they come. For employers to be more understanding of their employees’ busy timetables, there is a growing need to build positive relations.
Cultivating this would involve changes in how jobs are advertised and a careful re-think from students. Students should ask themselves: am I doing this job with integrity or just because I need to work? It seems like the answers to the questions that have been on my mind lie in the mindset of both employees and employers. Finding a balance between “what do you want to gain from this job?” and building up skills to do the job is another struggle students face. Employers want to see your “adaptability”, “ability to work under pressure” and “innovation”, but training courses offering to foster these skills are costly.
Where can students turn to for help?
In my personal experiences of volunteering and working, I’ve found that gaining a good basis of volunteering helped me when I did start working on a flexitime basis. Volunteering for a charity or society sometimes means you can take a specialised training course (e.g. leadership, time management), an opportunity to improve people skills and become a better communicator for the most part. Working on a flexitime basis is something that I am very grateful for, especially as a 3rd-year student with many courses and other commitments.
Finding a job that fits around studies is never going to be easy, so where can you look to for more information and advice? YOUR UNIVERSITY!
Universities also offer more opportunities nowadays for students to improve their skills through mock interviews with careers advisors and workshops to improve your skillset. In recent years, there has been an increase in career fairs advertising jobs and internships during the semester and the Summer, which attracts a wide range of students. Students should think about these opportunities now, rather than later, because after graduating, you need to promote yourself as a future employee.
What about employers, what can they do to improve the experiences students have whilst working? Perhaps having the “employee of the month” and recognising high achievements only isn’t the way to go… Instead, employees should be made to feel valuable.
How do we sustain this? Organising social dos, telling employees verbally that you appreciate their work and setting goals for employees to reach (journaling, monthly reviews) can improve employee morale and productivity. Whilst this is all industry-dependent, these are just some of the ways students and employers may aim to get a cultural fit with their values and preferred working patterns.