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The greatest challenge facing young graduates trying to enter the world of work is their lack of experience.
Employers, faced with many applicants for the jobs they advertise, tend to opt for those they believe will be able to add value straight away and the only way they can recognise them is through a record of work experience.
It is possible to get the required experience, and to build a record of reliability and competence through taking on work while studying.
That’s the word from Brendan Powell, general manager of Studentwise, a staffing organisation that specialises in below-the-line activations and experiential media and placing tertiary students in related work opportunities for short periods.
“We believe a ‘foot in the door’ is what’s required for new graduates. Vacation work has always been part of studying, but those sorts of jobs are disappearing as the world of work changes.
“The answer lies in taking on flexible work opportunities as and when they arise,” he says.
That’s where organisations such as Studentwise come in.
It has been sending groups of students into all sorts of marketing and promotion jobs for several years, giving them a chance to earn some money and, at the same time to build a CV.
“It’s often more valuable to have a CV that shows a range of activities coming out of your student years,” Powell says.
“If the work done is relevant to the student’s career direction it’s even better, but no experience is wasted and the softer workplace skills learnt in the process are invaluable.”
Studentwise tries to place students in relevant areas where possible. For example, food services students are sent to do food demos in stores or work as waiters, and financial students are sent to help with audits and stocktaking.
“We only use students at tertiary institutions,” Powell says.
“By being there, they have demonstrated a level of intellectual ability and by coming to us they have shown a willingness to work. Students generally have the ability to think on their feet, to troubleshoot and to handle long hours.”
Every employee undergoes an orientation programme, and each assignment is preceded by intensive, job-specific training.
“In all of this the generic skills of work ethic and customer service are stressed.
“Those are valuable skills, no matter where you eventually end up working,” Powell says.
Last year, Studentwise sent 5 500 students out on 27 000 tasks ranging in duration from an hour or two to four months.
“Many of them were brand activation events, so it’s important that the students we use represent the particular brand responsibly,” Powell says.
“That’s the risk the client takes, and the responsibility we take on. In the process, the students learn about brands and branding – skills that will help them in the workplace.
Apart from the service provided to the students, there is an added advantage to Isilumko, Studentwise’s parent company, Powell says.
“Isilumko is a placement company and we, in a way, test-drive potential candidates for them.
“The first prize for us is to identify potential talent in a student, employ him or her on various assignments during the four years of study, and then to employ them full-time, or to place them with one of Isilumko’s clients, at the end of that period.”
As far as compliance with labour legislation is concerned, Powell says the students generally work less than the statutory number of hours required to meet the definition of being employees.
“We are service providers rather than employers in the labour broking sense. We engage staff for individual projects and manage them on site.
“Beyond that, we try to be decent employers by providing training and support, and pride ourselves on paying for assignments immediately on completion – something that’s important to students.”
Powell believes their competitive advantage lies in the quality of the people they send to clients.
“We try to get as many students as possible to keep coming back to us, build relationships and to continually improve.
“That way we can best serve our clients and, more importantly help the students get that all-important foot in the door at the end of the process.”
l For more information visit www.isilumko.com/media