Part-time paycheques may not cut it

It doesn’t always pay for students to work part-time, according to Chris Rocha, director of Financial Aid at Durham College—and she means that literally.

Rocha has dealt with students who work part-time, but are still financially stressed, and she found a cost-benefit analysis is key to determining whether the balancing act of school and work is sensible.

“You get a paycheque and it may feel like you’re making money, but when you look at the cost of getting that money for the amount of hours you’re working… you’re actually not making money or you’re breaking even,” Rocha explained. “It’s hard to wrap your head around that concept unless you actually sit down and look at the numbers.”

The cost of transportation, meals and work uniforms are three main factors that part-time paycheques don’t cut it for many students, Rocha said. However, according to Statistics Canada, the reality for approximately 50 per cent of full-time students is they need to work part-time to supplement student loans or pay the full costs associated with post-secondary education.

The rate of full-time post-secondary students who work part-time has nearly doubled over the past 35 years.

An alternative to students who work off campus, but find the costs of work outweigh the paycheque, is the Durham College Work Study program, which helps minimize the factors that tend to invalidate a part-time paycheque.

The program offers jobs on campus with leniencies when it comes to time-off and scheduling because some studies have shown that more than 15 hours of work per week can be detrimental to a student’s academic success.

Everybody works in different ways and everybody manages time and stress differently, but the program handles a student’s time by scheduling no more than about 12 hours of work per week, according to Rocha.

“We find it’s valuable because not only does it provide you with financial funding to help get through school, but it also provides you with valuable experience, which is sometimes very hard to get (outside of school),” Rocha said.

Rocha said her own job-hunting experience after graduation was a difficult process. She had excellent marks but no related work experience, which may resonate with some recent graduates.

According to Statistics Canada, during the 2009-2010 school year, 96 per cent of students who worked part-time had jobs in the service sector. One-third of those jobs were in the retail business, which typically pays minimum wage. As it stands, minimum wage is $10.25 in Ontario.

Since students are willing to work part-time positions in the service sector, this leaves them susceptible to exploitation from employers, and leaves them with little input about health and safety policies, benefits or pay, according to the Canadian Federation of Students.

A campus work program can be thought of as a union—a supportive working environment for the daily lives of students, according to Rocha. As unions go though, there are often regulations to joining.

Applicants for the Work Study program must demonstrate financial needs to qualify by completing an online financial profile, and jobs are limited throughout the school year, mainly listed at the beginning of September and January.

Otherwise the program is a viable alternative for students seeking part-time work off campus, especially considering jobs on campus typically pay a little more than minimum wage, according to Rocha.

Shahbaz Tahririha, a mechanical engineering student at UOIT, said working on campus makes him feel like he’s still connected to the school and part of the community.

“When you work somewhere away from campus, it’s kind of like you’re living two separate lives,” Tahririha said. “It’s a lot easier to manage (time) when it’s all together in the same place.”

Peter Chinweuba, 2013-14 Student Association president, said while the program is important, it does not have his full support because international students are not eligible to join. This rule is strictly adhered to because of current international student laws.

When Chinweuba, a Nigerian citizen, started his first year at UOIT, he said Nigerian banks did not allow money transfers to Canada. He had no financial support from his family, and was left with few options to gain any income.