On Sept. 12, 2017, the Ontario University Student Alliance released their annual “Educated Solutions” report, which acts as a forum for students and policymakers to discuss their thoughts on that year’s main theme. The theme for this year was student employment.
Throughout the report, authors discussed the problems at hand for students seeking work, whether in the shape of part-time work, co-op placements or filling the “skills gap”.
One report honed in on the failures of the Employee Standards Act for students, arguing it does not protect students from precarious working conditions.
“The ESA explicitly excludes ‘individuals performing work under a program approved by a college of applied arts and technology or university’,” said Jennifer Lewarne, academic affairs commissioner of the Alma Mater Society at Queen’s University, who wrote the piece. “This is particularly problematic as it exposes students to potential mistreatment and exploitation in the workforce.”
Much of the document argued that work-integrated learning programs must cater to students’ needs and listen to what students and faculty are saying in order to develop these work opportunities.
The report is clear: work experience during one’s undergraduate career helps students build skills and give them the right tools to enter the workforce after they finish their bachelor’s degree.
At McMaster, on-campus work opportunities are commonplace; between the McMaster Students Union’s employees, the work/study program and research opportunities, students have the option of gaining work experience while attending university. These jobs, however, have pitfalls.
One of the major downsides to working on campus as opposed to elsewhere are the limited hours many popular jobs offer. Ikram Farah, a political sciences and labour studies student, worked three on-campus jobs last year. Farah worked for Mills Library through the work/study program, as a customer representative for the MSU Compass and as a Residence Life community advisor.
“When I worked as a sales representative outside of campus they could give as many hours as I wanted and it was more feasible because I needed it,” Farah said.
With that in mind though, there are benefits to working on campus, such as open and discreet accommodations. Barkhaa Talat, a life sciences student, echoed this sentiment. Talat worked for Guest Resident Services with Residence Life last year.
“If there have been times where I’ve needed time off, she’ll ask me to come in person and sort it out but they’ve been pretty accommodating with that,” she said.
But it can also be difficult simply finding a job on campus at all. For example, becoming a tour guide for the office of the registrar is often challenging since they hire all of their positions for the entire year in April, when most students are either busy with exams or gone for the summer.
Ruchika Gothoskar, a political sciences student, worked as a tour guide but only found the job out of sheer luck when some of her friends stopped by the tour guide office for an application.
“There are lots and lots of jobs within the Registrar’s office for students, but they’re not advertised well enough. I found out about being a tour guide through my friends,” said Gothoskar.
“There’s little to no advertising for that job other than word-of-mouth which can be a good thing because you have tour guides recommending their very qualified friends and not just [random people] who just want a job but I think there’s a lot of merit in being able to advertise a job well,” she added.
While work experience during one’s undergrad has had well-researched benefits, students still often have barriers accessing these positions.