Earning while (still) learning

Nugra Akbari, Melbourne | Opinion | Sat, May 18 2013, 11:06 AM

Paper Edition | Page: 7

When an Australian friend of mine who had just come back from a trip around Asia in February told me and another friend that he was going to go to Hawaii this July, this other friend, also Australian, asked him: “Where do you work?”

To me, the question is peculiar. In Indonesia it would not be heard in a conversation between youths aged 18-20-years-old. If a student of this age group in Indonesia tells his peers about a leisure trip to Hawaii, the common question would be something like “Where do your parents work?”

Most Indonesians may perceive that on average, young people still depend on their parents’ financial support. This perception held true when my mother and I had lunch at a restaurant in a mall in Jakarta. When we left the restaurant a waiter politely thanked my mother, although it was me who paid for our lunch.

In most developed countries like Australia, a career can start in the teenage years. A 16 year-old, for instance, can start to work as a cashier or a cook at a fast-food restaurant. My Australian friend had worked at a well-renowned electronics retail store when he was 18 as well as working as a computer tutor. Another friend is currently working as a bookkeeper while the other is a mining machinery operator.

It is arguably very beneficial to start one’s career this early to improve skills and professionalism as well as introducing work ethics so that these youngsters are ready by the time they start working full time as adults.

This way, many Australian students will have a long list of work experiences in their curriculum vitae by the time they graduate from university.

This is all possible because many Australian employers offer part-time jobs in which the employees are paid according to the amount of hours worked. A standard national minimum wage is assigned to each age group and increases along with age.

For example, the Fair Work Commission, an Australian government body that regulates employment rights, stipulates that junior workers at the age of 16 are entitled to the hourly minimum wage of A$7.55 (US$7.35), while the minimum wage of adults aged above 20 is US$15.96.

Employers in the restaurant and retail industries therefore prefer to hire younger part-time workers, as their standard minimum wage is lower. It is in this type of industry that most Australian youngsters start their careers.

This method allows young people, most likely students, to work without interference in their academic obligations.

Some employers will ask in advance the times at which the prospective employee is available for work. If this suits the business’s needs, it is likely that he or she will be hired.

Paying wages by the hour can be said to be beneficial to employers since they are able to hire many part-timers at the cost of hiring one full-time worker who, as per regulation, works 38 hours per week.

Why is this deemed to be beneficial? One of the reasons is that the employer can get fresh-in-spirit employees every eight and a half hours as they work in shifts.

As a result, from my point of view, the younger generation of Australia has become an established, well prepared and ready-to-compete generation.

Another friend of mine has family issues that forced her to leave home and live on her own. She never asked for any significant help and did not freeload in anyone’s house. She pays her own rent with the money she earns from working. She manages to do all this without neglecting her studies at university.

I wonder if Indonesian young people could be this independent.

There are, of course, franchised restaurants and coffee shops that apply the hourly wage method. However, that is all, compared to the enormous amount of jobs, especially in Greater Jakarta to which this method could apply, for example movie theatre staff, janitors, stockists and many more. Giving these jobs to young people would help them improve their work skills in many aspects.

With the rapid growth of the number of middle-class families in Indonesia, the use of domestic servants has greatly increased. With the peace of mind and ease offered by such servants, are there as many Indonesian youths who are able to sweep and mop floors as there were in the past?

Some faculties in my university offer a co-op program for high-achieving students who are Australian citizens or permanent residents in which they are given a chance to be trained and placed in work in big companies, with which the university is in cooperation. They get $16,750 every year until they graduate, sponsored by the company they work for.

I think there should be programs like this in Indonesia. A company, for example, could fulfill its corporate social responsibility in form of part-time work opportunities and training. In this way, companies give more than just financial aid.

Work opportunities and training would teach the recipients valuable life skills, which of course, they can take advantage of in the long run. Financial aid alone in general may only be a short-term solution. On the other hand, if the company opts to employ one or more of these students after they graduate, they would cut costs in training.

All in all, there would be no harm if Indonesian employers gave young people a chance to start their careers. If trained and trusted, they are capable of doing what their adult counterparts have already been doing, equally well.

The writer, winner of the International Conference of Young Scientists in Poland in 2009, is a recipient of a Beasiswa Unggulan scholarship from the Education and Culture Ministry.