Student jobs boss has searching role

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Last updated 05:00 16/06/2013
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Craig Simcox/Fairfax NZ

Student-owned: SJS’s Dean Jervis effectively works on students’ behalf.

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Student jobs aren't what they used to be.

Dean Jervis, sales and marketing manager of the Government-funded Student Job Search service, said students were earning far less three years ago when he joined the service.

The nature of the jobs they were being contracted for had also changed.

Jervis, whose previous corporate experience was at Air New Zealand and New Zealand Post, said three years ago SJS was placing roughly 26,000 students per year in temporary jobs, and together they were earning around $48 million.

Today, the annual number of placements was still around 26,000, but the students were pulling in $70m.

Jervis said he had consciously gone corporate with SJS, funded by the Government to the tune of $3.3m a year, as a way of keeping down student poverty.

He's wooed larger companies, specifically targeting those with uneven customer demand, who have predictable peaks in demand.

This includes larger employers with peak seasonal demand such as Cookie Time and NZ Post, which sources student labour for the Christmas holiday season, and also ANZ, which uses students in its call centre.

Jervis said SJS still provided low-wage hospitality jobs that have long been the mainstay of part-time student work, but now placed very few students in minimum-wage jobs, particularly in Auckland.

The service, run out of Wellington by an incorporated society with 40 staff, is effectively "owned" by a collection of 21 student associations from around the country, so Jervis is effectively responsible to students for his performance. The needs of the average student have changed markedly in the last 10 years. Being a student is not as cheap as it used to be, Jervis said, pointing in particular to the technology that has become the essential hardware of a student's life.

They are the digital natives, Jervis said, but study now required items like iPads, which could be a major call on student budgets.

SJS forwards only brief shortlists of screened candidates for each job so employers, who pay nothing for the referrals, do not get an unmanageable mound of applications.

Jervis said the evidence of its market-testing with employers was clear: They were much more likely to give a job to a young person leaving college if they already had a reasonable work history.

It didn't have to be industry-specific, though if you wanted to go into banking, a bit of call-centre experience would be an advantage, but a work history had become a must, Jervis said.

"The interesting thing is employers do not demand the experience to be industry-related. That's not as critical as just having experience," he said.

They wanted to see a person had the basic skills and capacity to put in a good day's work, Jervis said. They wanted them to be productive staff members from day one.

Many students didn't understand this well, he said.

The biggest mismatch between employers and students in terms of expectations was that students by and large believed their priority must be to get A grades. That was important, Jervis said, but employers also wanted to see experience.

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There had been a shift to a much greater acceptance of student debt since Jervis's days as a student. But this was not a good thing in a country where wages were low and property prices high, he said.

As a father, he counted it as a success that neither of his two daughters - both students - had student loans.

He managed this by saving a few dollars a week into the AGC student scholarship scheme, so the funding was available without them needing to borrow.

- Sunday Star Times

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