Why do companies hire students?

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Oh, students...the professional category companies used to run from like the plague, these youngsters who are always presumed to be incompetent, who are always told that they’re stupid, unknowledgeable, inexperienced but aren’t given any chance to learn either, not without disrespect, working for pennies or even worse, being offered an (un) friendly handshake as reward.

Are you a student and your pockets are empty? Has college taught you absolutely nothing because the Romanian education system is obsolete, outdated and demands more taxes than ANAF? (for my English speaker pals, that’s the Romanian IRS). Are you unemployed with a diploma although you’ve worked harder than someone unrightfully receiving welfare, maybe even took on some specialization courses because you’re not a parasite but employers still don’t care? Do you want to purchase your own ramen without asking for help from your parents? Well, you’ll be pleased to learn that companies are now offering a plethora of student jobs and graduate jobs and are even „fighting” over these previously unwanted youngsters.

Why the sudden urge to integrate young professionals on the job market straight after college? Do companies suddenly love us and that’s why they’re offering student jobs or does it all sound almost too good to be true? Let’s see...

From context to recruitment

The current state of the Romanian job market is a pretty grim one, as we all know. It only takes skimming over a few reliable sources or some looking around to see the acute lack of personnel in all industries.

If in the past, the employers’ capitalistic, slave-owner mentality eloquently boiled down into motto-phrases such as „You’re fired, I got 50 people lined up at the door anyway” worked in reality because there were plenty of us in the country and they could quickly find a replacement, today it’s a whole different ball game.

No one’s lined up at the door anymore because no one’s eager to enter. And if they do, they’ll break that door open on their first chance to leave for entirely justifiable reasons and that’s precisely why we see such a worrying staff turnover.

Even in this context, some employers won’t change their outdated and profoundly arrogant mentality of „Us” versus „Them”, not even at last, this belief that they are above the candidate, sitting on a pedestal, watching him struggle from 10 meters under.

They don’t want to change that mentality, despite all the statistics, studies and the blunt reality telling them, in a single voice, that they need to change something, otherwise they won’t even have someone to pour their cappuccino in a cup.

Instead, what do you think is the solution they choose? You can’t have possibly thought of talent attraction, stimulating the active workforce or investing in vocational training...or did you? Unfortunately, only a very small percentage of companies choose that route.

The rest offer student jobs, recruit interns, practitioners and all associated „species”. But why?

The student, a very disposable employee...

Lovelies, if you’re students, don’t kid yourself that companies have suddenly started loving you. The following preconceptions about students in the work environment are still loudly perpetuated and proclaimed by some HR people, employers and managers across the pond:

  • The presumption of incompetence – ALL students are stupid, paid for their diplomas and didn’t learn anything in college or in other projects that could help them in the grand job offered. The presumption of incompetence seeks to generalize students, painting them all as inferior, even lower on the professional scale of an organization than unskilled workers. The presumption of incompetence brings forth distrust, downright insulting job offers for students (because they’re stupid and they only need money for clubbing, duh) and a general lack of interest to support their professional evolution
  • Lack of experience justifies an offensively low starting salary – a student cannot expect to receive an amazingly high salary for his first job, anyone who doesn’t live on a pink cloud knows that, but employers will always seek to offer the bare minimum, on the brink of subsistence, of what is decent enough to be considered livable. Why is this unfair? Because it stems from the presumption of incompetence mentioned earlier, it’s not solely a matter of cutting costs. Employers won’t invest in an employee they already deemed incompetent, they barely invest in the experienced ones as it is. Unfortunately, because of this attitude, they will fail to see that lack of work experience can be substituted by knowledge, skills, eagerness to learn and other relevant volunteering experiences. Even if the student in question doesn’t have the skills the employer needs, for a minimum wage, he won’t be able to stick around long enough to learn them because he is not MOTIVATED, another word the lovely HR people are obsessed with, use continuously and still not understand in the slightest
  • Students aren’t reliable employees – HR professionals, managers and employers not only fail to make a single effort towards retention when it comes to hired students, but they always accuse them of being unreliable. However, if we were to think a little further, beyond prejudice, it becomes obvious that the young staff turnover happens precisely because of points 1 and 2 – employees who aren’t motivated and encouraged, only overworked until they fall over because they don’t have experience and are believed to be incompetent won’t stick around in an organization that doesn’t show them basic decency and respect

Companies hire us for their sake, not ours

The recently passed Romanian internship law, the internships for students, entry-level jobs, they all sound so encouraging for every youngster seeking to start a career. But the reality is that most of them have been created exclusively for the employer’s benefit and protection.

What do I mean by that? Well, in case you didn’t know, least in Romania, the state gives these companies money to hire us. The state reduces some of their taxes to hold on to us a little longer as employees, especially if we bring the attesting paperwork from our college or Master’s program. And, because they pay us in pennies or less, companies earn a lot by also cutting salary costs. Win-win...for them.

Therefore, for employers, students become disposable, perishable. They come today, they leave tomorrow. The exceptions to the rule are unfortunately few and far in between. I can only bow before those companies, to tell you the truth.

The rest expect the student to settle for exactly what he’s being given, to be treated as an unskilled laborer or a sub-species below the unskilled level because he’s under the presumption of incompetence and he deserves exactly what the company decides he deserves. You don’t have experience, who do you think you are, demanding more, even if you have knowledge or skills?

Show respect and you’ll be respected...

I’m not proud of all students around me, but the stereotype of drunken clubbies and illiterates doesn’t represent all of us and it needs to stop being our label. As long as employers are comfortable on that high horse and we’re still 10 feet under and encouraged to stay there, it’s a power imbalance that cannot function forever in a country with a severe talent crisis in all fields.

Just like I refuse to believe that all incompetent HR people that I make fun of in some of my articles represent the entire beautiful Human Resources branch, I also hope and want to believe in a future where companies don’t paint us all in the colors of incompetence and lack of faith.

Companies can’t exist without people and when all people will cease to pose any interest for a company, it’ll disappear because it cannot physically sustain itself without people. And not even a hoard of students with empty pockets and hopeless dreams will save it.

We are not disposable. And all we ask for is a shred of respect.

So, next time you want to draw us in with internships that involve working until you fall over for sunflower seeds money because that’s how much you decided we’re worth, when you tell us you’ll give us a chance to learn but won’t teach us anything because you think we’re too stupid to get it, but you’ll gladly use us instead, don’t even bother, because it sounds like a political speech.

Say it out loud and proud, instead:

  • we hire students to pay fewer taxes
  • we hire students because they are a cheap labor force with low demands
  • we hire students because they lack experience and we will throw this in their faces every time they dare to ask for basic decency from us
  • we hire students because they agree to be paid in ramen and have no other alternative
  • we offer student jobs because we need losers to work for free

We’ll appreciate you a lot more if you do it.

Translation: Hiring student because we need a college slip as proof so we won’t pay too much to the state.

See? It’s possible.

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