Are you sure?

Learning and earning

Companies reluctant to start their post-crisis rehiring are preparing to take advantage of student work to an unusual extent this year. This could give a further boost to student cooperatives, which are already booming. But are students really all that inclined to take on summer jobs?

If you look at the bios of the rich and famous, you will find that many started working very young: during their university or even high school years. They usually started from the bottom and took on everything from dishwashing to delivering newspapers. Later, when asked in interviews, all said they benefited from the experience.

Student jobs are still popular. The widest array of positions is usually offered by student work cooperatives, the first of which were established in Hungary in the early 1990s. Ever since, they have provided their clients with a constant supply of young workers looking to earn something extra in their free time.

Fürge Diák, a student job center with 17 outlets nationwide, was set up in 1994. During this period, the popularity of student jobs has varied. “We experienced a slight drop in 2002 when student loans were introduced,” András Virágh, head of the Pest County office told the Budapest Business Journal. “But with the number of tuition-free university spots decreasing, its appeal has risen again.” In the past four or five years, however, interest has remained stable.

The popularity of student jobs may fluctuate but the most sought-after positions don’t: administrative and hostess positions have long been at the top of students’ wish lists. Then come internships/traineeships, followed by light manual jobs. Performance-based posts in sales or marketing are the least preferred.

When it comes to actual placements, the list looks a bit different. “Manual jobs such as jobs in a printing house, a pharmaceutical company or in a supermarket account for 50–60% of our placements,” Virágh said. “Administrative and hostess assignments made up 20–24% at our center last year.”

In the countryside, there are more job offerings in manufacturing. Companies usually have their headquarters in the capital, but production takes place in countryside locations. Therefore it is factory and field works that abound there.

Although student job centers have many job advertisements, experts advise students to register in the system. This mostly can be done online by filling out a form. In addition to general data, centers are also interested in students’ language knowledge, special skills and their schedules. With so much information at their hands, centers are more likely to find a match, so they highly recommend the use of the system.

Kata Kovács, a high-school student, used the same method when she first registered at Rébusz Iskolaszövetkezet four years ago. “I registered before I turned 16 and a week after my birthday I was offered a job.” She was interested in fast-food restaurant jobs and received an offer from McDonald’s. First, she was entered into the system, then was directed to a woman who dealt with her personally. “She listed a number of restaurants and we finally chose one close to my home to avoid the hassle and time of travel. Then, I had to get a medical check-up. Once I had all the papers, I was ready to work,” she recalls. The only requirement she had to meet was to work at least 20 hours a week. Kovács, who still works for McDonald’s, is fairly content with her job. “They are quite flexible with working hours and the wages are good: HUF 660 per hour as opposed to the HUF 500 average.”

Due to the nature of the jobs there, work organization in centers outside the capital is different. “Jobs are offered for and done by groups of students who are supervised by student-leaders,” said Péter Vida, director of the student job network MelóDiák. Student-leaders, who are students themselves, are in constant contact with workers. They fill out the attendance sheet at the beginning of the day and consult young workers when the workday ends. The employees of the center do skill and safety trainings prior to the placement and it is they who generally brief and debrief students.

Feedback is essential for both parties. For centers it is needed to screen the quality of the workforce. “We suffer market and financial damages when, for example, a worker doesn’t keep the timetable or works inefficiently,” said Virágh. In such cases, the center issues a warning, then speaks to the student. “We try and make them understand that by making a bad impression on their employers, they are ruining the chances of their fellow student workers who may need the work to pay the rent or tuition.” If everything else fails, the students are not hired again and the center charges some compensation. Work morale has worsened in the past decade, according to Virágh, who attributes the deterioration to social and cultural changes. “Kids who grew up on a PlayStation may not be manually fit for a job. The sense of responsibility has also declined.”

Fortunately, there are many youngsters who are willing to work hard. “I don’t need to explain what an extra breadwinner means for a family these days,” said Vida.

Companies also benefit from hiring young people. Besides enjoying tax breaks, they can bridge summer or Christmas downtimes with a temporary workforce. And what do kids gain from working through a student job center? Firstly, their rights are protected and they get fixed-term employment. Many children are not aware of their rights or labor law, thus are often deceived by employers. Beyond that, working via a center is also beneficial financially. “Two years ago, I applied for a job at a popular teahouse directly,” Kovács recalled. “They hired me but then suggested I should register at the student job center they were in contract with. They said that charges and taxes were much more favorable this way. They were right.”