Enjoy, but wait tables in moderation

The Netherlands are about to see sunny days again. On TV, the weatherman shows up looking more cheerful every day, while a wonderful display of colourful flowers is showing in the Vondelpark in Amsterdam. For many students, it’s the perfect time of the year to go hit a pavement café in between the exams, and enjoy the nice weather.

When I’m walking down the street or when for example I’m at a pavement café myself, I love to just look around. I see a lot of fellow students not only at other tables, but also and maybe mostly among the waiting staff and in the kitchens of the various lively cafés and restaurants throughout our wonderful city. Is that a good idea, though? There is a major labour shortage on the job market and vacancies are everywhere, particularly in business. Isn’t there a different, better way to put the knowledge and experience you gain from your studies to use than by serving cold beer and warm latte macchiato? And make good money while you’re at it, and make your studies a lot more fun?

In a way, it’s very surprising that cafés and restaurants still depend so strongly on the coming and going of university students of all shapes and sizes. There is no other area that employs that many students, and where – by comparison – the working conditions are that scant. No permanent contracts, low wages, sometimes even awful conditions (working for 12 hours straight, preferably until 3 AM, with only a 10 minute break), no pay during sick leave, and it’s not very challenging work. That doesn’t sound very appealing, and things could be so much better!

In business, people are anxious for student workers. IT students are asked to sign employment contracts that say YOU HAVE TO STAY WITH US in large capital letters, and in exchange they’re handed the keys to two different leased cars. Cars they’ll find parked at the faculty with full tanks, waiting to take their new owner to his or her part-time job.

Jurists, economists and people doing business studies are promised trips to Hong Kong, New York, Dubai and so on. Drinks included. As long as they’re willing to listen to the promotional talks that every firm’s recruiters love to tell about themselves and their firm. And to leave behind their CVs, which those firms are all too happy to choose their applicants from, even (or maybe even particularly) while you’re a student. And rumour has it that if you don’t have a driver’s licence, you can very easily negotiate getting one.

An often-heard excuse from fellow students is that they can’t imagine the business world having any need for them. We’re only students, Danny! And I reply: Why is that difficult to imagine? Often, there’s no answer. A sensible answer to my question could be that companies can find much more qualified staff than them, but that’s not true. And while another sensible (and actually correct) answer might be that companies prefer to hire full-time employees, the reality is that companies are glad to find any qualified staff for a given position at all. A part-timer with decent expertise is better than a full-timer without a clue what they’re doing.

Students actually make great employees for a company. They’re not only less demanding when it comes to working hours and wages, but they’re also often young, energetic and eager to learn. Furthermore, students are taught the latest scientific insights, as opposed to older employees who got their education decades ago and whose knowledge isn’t as up-to-date.

Even for just-students, working conditions are often excellent: a fixed contract (after a probation period), paid sick leave, it’ll look great on your CV, and not to forget, higher pay. On top of that, you’ll be much more valuable on the job market later if you’ve acquired practical experience as a student, and during practical work you’ll often find good ideas for your bachelor thesis, for example.

That’s why my advice to every student would be: enjoy the nice weather, and enjoy all the cafés, but wait tables in moderation!

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