Tamás Fehér, the managing director of Grafton Kft in Budapest, spoke to BBJ reporter Paul Mackintosh about the advantages and issues of short-term student employment in the context of professional HR agency services.
Q: What are the advantages of recruiting students for part-time or short-term work from an HR agency perspective?
A: At Grafton Hungary, this is very relevant to us. Around two-thirds of our temporary placements are directed to office temps, for fields like data entry, short-term receptionists, coverage for seasonal peaks. Students are very good part-time or short-term workers. They can hop in and out, and are not afraid of taking a job for a day or two, or for two or three weeks. When they finish, they will have a view of what work will be like at the various companies.
From an HR agency perspective students are okay. Moreover, there is a better payment structure for them. It is not necessarily good for the company, because they have to pay the full employer’s cost, but for the students, the net take-home pay is higher as they don’t have to pay the full social security contribution.
These students usually have to know a language, or if the post is to do with finance or data entry, they are usually from a finance or a business studies background. Companies are asking for students with a business studies background.
Q: What are the particular regulatory and other requirements you have to meet when recruiting students in Hungary?
A: We have to differentiate between a recruitment agency like Grafton and a student cooperative. Student cooperatives have the authority to place students on companies. They are not fully aware of what the difference is in administration. It’s a cheaper solution: the employer’s costs are lower if it is a student cooperative.
For us the costs are the same as if it was an employee, but the students don’t have to pay the full social security contribution. There’s nothing different basically in whether we’re placing them for short-term or temporary work.
There’s another option, which is internships. Internships are usually requested by the schools themselves. They can vary from four weeks to a half year or even longer. In this case, it’s not necessary to pay a salary to the students. Some schools request that companies not pay salaries.
Companies have a different policy on this. Those companies that are running an internship program as a strategic priority usually give 60–70% of the full starting salary to an intern. Then there is the other type where the company provides a minimum wage to the student pro-rated to the hours that the student spends with the company. But it’s a win-win situation even if we only pay a minimum wage to the student.There are no special administration requirements, although there’s one thing called a Start Card that provides the company with some subsidies for employing fresh graduates.
The big difference is their salary expectation. Students would work for the minimum wage because they see it as a learning experience. Companies are happy to provide a 20-hours-a-week work schedule so the students can attend classes.
Students are cheap to employ for short-term work, but at the same time they command relatively high value. They are quite well educated, have the language knowledge and are eager to learn. They are not working just because they are forced to take a job. It is probably in their minds to plan for the future and get to know the companies and the work environment.
Q: What are the most popular work areas for student recruitment?
A: Summertime is always a big peak for students: that’s when companies are looking for them. At the same time it’s not the only period in the year. If it’s a part-time job, companies are looking for students on an ongoing basis.
We are actually right now recruiting a part-time receptionist who will be a student and will cover for the afternoon hours. In other cases, this can extend even into the night hours, for instance in hotels or other companies that are open 24 hours a day. I am looking for someone who will sit in reception and at the same time will learn the structure and operations of the business. I’m only looking for someone who is aiming to work full-time as an HR consultant.
Otherwise it’s usually reception or data entry; for instance, when there’s an ERP data system project and there is a relatively large upload in a very short period of time. It’s not necessarily a seasonal thing, but it’s where there is a particular project with a specific time frame.
Q: What types of work or sectors do students look for?
A: In general, students look for a type of work, not a job in a particular industry. It’s their field of study, not an industry, although if I was studying finance, I would be looking for a finance job. There is no great difference between an FMCG company and a bank in terms of a part-time job. Obviously the learning experience may be different in terms of the company culture. That’s the cultural experience that’s very important.
If you’re studying marketing, it doesn’t matter if you’re going to an oil company, or a bank or an FMCG company. When you’re there you see what the differences are, but the difference are professional differences. When the student is looking for an opportunity, it’s not yet decided what the preference will be.
One other thing often open for a student is trainee programs that are usually looking to rotate last year’s students or fresh graduates around several roles. That is usually good for letting a student decide what area is best for him or her, and it is also good for the company as a selection tool.