Experience pays off

Part-time work not only helps students make ends meet, it also impresses prospective employers
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The Independent Online

Today's students are three times more likely to underwrite the cost of their studies by taking part-time employment than they were a decade ago. The problem is, claim an increasing number of graduate recruiters, that many of them are omitting to include the experience of the working world on their CVs.

Today's students are three times more likely to underwrite the cost of their studies by taking part-time employment than they were a decade ago. The problem is, claim an increasing number of graduate recruiters, that many of them are omitting to include the experience of the working world on their CVs.

"Graduates don't seem to realise that there has been a radical change of attitude among employers, who no longer assume paid work during term-time is damaging to studies," explains Emma Bulley, manager at Metamorphose International, a graduate recruitment and training organisation. "It has become recognised that commercial acumen and an awareness of the world of work are both attributes that have been traditionally lacking in graduates who were caught up in academia."

AGCAS (Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services) agrees: with increasing exposure to financial pressures, students are far more astute and business-minded, and this can only be beneficial.

Figures from the government's labour force survey show the number of 16- to 24-year-olds in full-time education with a part-time job in 1984 was 319,000. By early 1998 this had risen to 893,000. But the real figures are expected to be a lot higher. Indeed, some estimates suggest that as many as half of the 4.4 million full-time students in Britain now undertake paid work during term-time, with the reduction in real terms of students grants thought to be one of the main reasons for the change. The expansion of shopping hours and the increasing market for fast food have also created opportunities for part-time work.

According to research by Incomes Data Services, Pizza Hut has the highest percentage of students in its workforce, accounting for about 60 per cent of its employees. If such a student approaches Emma Bulley, she claims the experience speaks volumes to her.

"I immediately know that that graduate has expertise in time management, customer service, and dealing with an extremely pressurised environment. That's why it is ironic that many graduates are reticent about mentioning these jobs to recruiters."

Employment at supermarkets can result in similar skills, which is no bad thing when you consider that about 35 per cent of employees at Waitrose are students, and that Safeway, Tesco and Asda are among other big student employers. For these companies and others, IDS claims, student labour is no longer "casual" but "structural". In fact, at Sainsbury's some students are even given supervisory roles. "Working in these service industries offers students the opportunity to gain abilities which, let's face it, the lecture theatre simply can't," says Pam Richards, an HR specialist.

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), points out that in the USA graduate recruiters tend to be wary of graduates who haven't had any previous experience of employment. "Students who work part-time are considered more entrepreneurial and therefore more marketable," he says.

The National Union of Students points to evidence from an American study that shows spending up to 15 hours at work can be invaluable. "Many young people leaving school at 18 won't have spent time at work and they need to learn about working alongside other people, handling the public and management culture," says a spokesperson. Nevertheless, he adds, there is a danger of companies exploiting the student workforce. Consequently, the Union is campaigning for employers to provide better-quality jobs with training and fair pay.

For many individuals, the biggest bonus of working during term-time is that it enables them to map out a career path more clearly. Tesco, for instance, found that around a quarter of last year's applications for one of its training scheme came from graduates - many of whom had developed their interest in retailing while working part-time in stores when they were students.

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