Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Offering work to students benefits everybody

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As the month of April rolls around, the buds of the leaves are starting to show and so we can say for certain that spring has finally arrived. Yet, along with spring comes university wrap-up, graduation and a whole flock of students seeking both first-career roles as well as summer jobs. And of course, not far behind are those high school seniors who will flood into the June market looking for their share of the summer jobs.

Offering summer employment to young students is something every business should consider, no matter what size. With vacation scheduling always a challenge, summer students can provide those much needed extra hands. Summer is also a time when those low-priority projects can finally be taken off the shelf and worked on. At the same time, students can be assigned to new projects that require basic research and/or administration.

Our students these days come with extraordinary computer literacy skills. They catch on quickly to current programs and are often able to provide suggestions for improvement. Students bring enthusiasm and energy, a willingness to try new things and are eager to learn. Students these days are also accustomed to working and studying in teams for their class projects and so they will easily fit into a team environment. Additional skills students would bring to a summer job include project management, research and writing skills, problem solving and analysis as well as working to deadlines.

Most students these days have been encouraged to take part in and in fact can earn credits for community volunteer work. For instance, we often learn about students gaining coaching certifications and coaching sports of all kinds. We see students working in personal care homes, day-care centres, and/or in a hospital setting. These type of volunteer experiences help to develop interpersonal skills and a sense of responsibility and caring for people.

Still, other students have demonstrated leadership by engaging in school council management, the school newsletter, blogs, the annual yearbook or debating clubs, science fairs and other related activities. Each of these activities teach responsibility, teamwork, leadership, interpersonal relationships, social responsibility and political sensitivity.

While there is a whole cadre of students available for your summer jobs, unless you know someone really well, you need to assess these candidates as stringently as any other potential candidate. After all, following several years of summer employment, these students might well become a permanent employee.

Job opportunities can be advertised at the local universities, student job centres and directly with the various high schools. In addition, post these student opportunities on your website and circulate them through the various social media contacts. Students are very much into social media and so this will generate a number of applicants for you.

Create a job advertisement that clearly identifies the nature of the job and the skills required. At the same time, identify an opportunity to learn as students are seeking meaningful work where they can develop new skills that can be applied in the future. Students often use their summer employment experience to determine a final career direction and so if possible, look for work tasks that enable students to rotate to various departments.

Interviewing students for summer jobs can be both an interesting and frustrating experience. Standard questions such as "what are your career goals" sometimes don't elicit the response you might be looking for. That's because many students simply do not have a final vision of where they want to be and in today's world, many require a second degree in order to specialize.

I also often see employers discounting student applicants because they've had a number of part-time food service jobs. That old-fashioned perception of too much moving or "job hopping" continues to linger on and shouldn't really apply in the case of students. After all, students go in and out of employment depending on their studies, rates of pay, hours of work and whether or not they like what they are doing. They don't need to worry about job security; they are simply seeking skill-building opportunities.

As well, be careful not to discount students because of the style of their resumé. Most will not have had any training on writing a resumé or interviewing for that matter. Still other schools teach students to prepare a portfolio of their work and experience, which on the other hand presents a lot more information than you needed or wanted.

If you are planning to hire a summer student, you need to prepare for their entry into your organization. Ensure an effective reporting structure, a specific job description and specific goals and objectives for the term of their employment. There is nothing more frustrating for a student than to be hired and have nothing to do and no one to turn to. As well, you must be fully aware of any legislation related to student employment in your industry sector including the workplace health and safety regulations that would apply.

Some students have not had many work experiences and so need to be coached on the various time requirements in the workplace. I still enjoy the humour of recalling a group of students I hired for a three-week summer project. The first day of work, they all started putting their jackets on to go home at 3:30! I had to stop them in their tracks and gently share with them that our workday ended at 5 p.m.

Keep in mind that students entering your workplace for the first time are usually very enthusiastic and may overstep their boundaries without being aware it. Provide a solid orientation program and assign a work buddy who can show them the ropes and help to make them feel comfortable. Also, ensure that the supervisor spends frequent quality time with their summer students so they don't feel abandoned.

People want to feel a sense of accomplishment in their jobs and students are no different.

Being inexperienced, you can expect them to initially make errors, especially the first few days of the learning curve. Be sure to provide guidance as well as praise.

Finally, managers need to recognize the well-known quotation "you only get one chance to make a good first impression" also applies to the workplace as much as it does to a summer student. In other words, when your students leave and they will; you want them to be ambassadors who will sell your summer student opportunities to the next generation. Be sure to plan accordingly.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 14, 2012 H1

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