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Mary MacGillivray

(October 5, 2000, Gazette)

At your service

By Mary MacGillivray

"Can I interest you in our evening special?” “Would you like fries with that?” These are a few of the questions that many students are asking outside of class. Welcome to the service industry. The land of milk(shakes)and honey glistens for university students who, in light of staggering tuition fees, are looking for ways to make money. As relieving as it is to have an income, there is less time to study, party, and even sleep. Instead of enjoying extracurricular activities, many students are serving the public. Working at a job while attending school does pose problems for students. Does this change the need for some students to work too many hours? No.

Attending university is expensive. Many students all across Canada do not have enough money to live and go to school. They are left with one of two options. Some people choose to borrow money to cover the costs. Study after study shows that the average student debt has increased to nearly $30,000 at graduation. For those who refuse the burden of owing such a sum, this poses a problem.

Students who wish to leave the university debt-free are forced to work full-time while balancing a busy course load. Other students are working part-time to supplement loans that do not suffice. Some students are missing over half of their classes because of work.

Unfortunately, well-paying jobs are hard to come by. The majority of jobs available to students only pay the provincial minimum wage of $5.50 an hour. In order to buy a $70 textbook, a student must work for over 12 hours. And while students may earn more in jobs where it is customary to tip, working for 12 hours in the service industry is like completing a 12-hour obstacle course.

After a full day of classes and tending to a list of other priorities, arriving at work on time is next. This leaves little time to quietly reflect upon what was said in class that day. In this business, feet get swollen and the hours can be grueling. Carrying a huge oval tray around for eight hours, or hauling dozens of beer for restocking are sure ways to strain body parts. Stress is also a factor. Take bartending. Cocktails with 12 ingredients take time to make, and of course, 22 people would like one at the same time. Or perhaps it’s rush hour(s) at the drive-through and there are endless carloads of eager customers to serve. The challenge is real – is it humanly possible to smile and be friendly again and again? While some customers are downright angelic, others are not.

Yes, service with a smile is definitely preferred. And there are plenty of friendly people who smile easily and patiently. The utterly condescending, on the other hand, are another story. These customers are mostly into snapping their fingers and being bossy. They are not handing out any medals for students who are at work after classes. Thankfully, these customers are not the majority. Serving has been called a thankless profession, but of course, it has its virtues.

Many managers are sensitive to the needs of working students. New skills in dealing effectively with the public are important. Meeting with over 60 strangers in one day is interesting, as energy-consuming as it is. Working with a team of co-workers will reveal if one knows how to play well with others or not. Making new friends and acquaintances is fun. The problem is that working while attempting to do ones best at university is distracting. Attaining a scholarship while working full-time requires juggling skills that would make anyone dizzy. For many, being forced to work while attending university is a reality.

Students seeking employment inside or outside the service industry can try these Web sites:
http://www.mun.ca/ccd
http://jb-ge.hrdc-drhc.gc.ca

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