Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, May 14, 2009

By Sabhanaz Rashid Diya

Take any odd day of the week and you'll find innumerable ads on the local dailies on job vacancies. The current job market is highly competitive where each firm tops the other in their hunt for the most compatible university graduate. Yet, quite surprisingly in their ads, these same firms that imposes the need of a young employee enforces on his or her past experiences. Getting a fresh graduate with enough experience up his or her sleeve seemed like an improbability at first; but soon the prospect of summer jobs in Bangladesh became a thought provoking solution.

Although the concept of summer jobs is a widespread practice in the West, it is yet to be considered seriously in Bangladesh. Most Dhaka-based private universities offer tri-semesters per year with a few leaving summer as an outlet for other activities. On the contrary, public or government universities do not have the provision for such notions. An ex-Notredamian and current 4th-year medical student, Hasan quite eloquently explained why summer jobs are likely to be an improbability in Bangladesh.

“As medical students, we rarely get vacations so summer jobs aren't exactly a glamorous idea. Most government institutions don't have a very high range of salaries for its staff. The highest pay scale goes up to only 20k, whereas you start somewhere in the range of 3k to 4k. Unfortunately, with such limited provision for salaries, public institutions cannot facilitate summer jobs for students. If they do so, the student will be pain below 2k and such a low pay is not particularly attractive to the average undergraduate at any local university. On the contrary, he or she can earn more money tutoring!”

However, the need for summer jobs is incomparable. Besides preparing the students for the competitive, commercial world; summer jobs play an important role in shaping any individual's independence. They learn to think outside the box, put their knowledge to practical use and most importantly, gain experience by working at a variety of fields before taking on to their 'real' careers.

“I strongly believe Bangladeshi students should start considering summer jobs as part of their undergraduate years,” said Tanvir, an Oklahoma State University Alum and currently doing MBA at a renowned private university in Dhaka. “It is often frustrating to see my peers or students yelling at waiters at restaurants. The scope for summer jobs is a way of role reversal, where students not only gain practical experience; but also learn to be more understanding as individuals. Take any fancy chain supermarket in Dhaka and the employees insist on putting a single item such as a can of Coke or Igloo ice-cream in a paper bag. If an educated student takes that job, the idea of wastage will occur to him or her, and resources will be saved.”

In spite of its evident advantages, summer jobs seem like a far-fetched reality. Digging deep into the system, it appeared as thought there was a flaw in our ideologies as opposed to institutions facilitating student employment. Hasan added,

“It is the way parents raise their children. Bangladeshi youth are comfortable with the idea that they can ask their parents for money. In the same way, parents rely on their children after they retire. This cycle of interdependence removes the practice of student employment or retirement plans for an average Bangladeshi. However, in the Western world, parents teach their children to be independent from an early age, for example selling newspapers or picking up trash in exchange of chocolates, and sometimes, allowances. Children grow up with the idea that they have to earn their personal expenditures; thus, summer jobs become a necessary practice.”

In tandem to the genetic wheel of interdependence, young people in Bangladesh are not familiar with summer jobs. The very thought of working at the same restaurant that's a common hotspot for friends or a supermarket raises eyebrows and ego conflicts. With the economic recession and global problems, the unemployment rate escalates as population booms. Local companies face difficulties in recruiting university graduates, thus creating room for student employment becomes almost impossible.

So, what can be done about this debate? Work experiences gathered during undergraduate years works brilliantly on a student's resume, but finding a place in the job market at such an early age is a tremendous obstacle.

“I think the solution comes within the universities themselves,” suggested Anato, an undergrad from University of Birmingham in UK. “If the university authorities link up with certain firms and NGOs that provide jobs for students during summer, students will feel more interested to work. The university can recommend their students and firms can give a performance report at the end of two months.”

“I agree,” added Shaon, another MBA student from a Dhaka-based private university. “If the authorities can make this job experience as part of their foundation courses and make it mandatory, students will end up working in at least one summer session. The performance report act as grades. Since the problem lies in the very roots of our social system, the only way we can change it is by initially imposing these courses on our students.”

“College professors can also pay students to write research papers or help in a particular project during their summer months,” said Nisma, currently enrolled at Reeds College. “I'm working with one of my professors this summer, and I know it's going to be an excellent learning experience for me.”

In spite of difficulties and norms, summer jobs can be an effective solution in dealing with many of the youth issues that Bangladesh faces today. Drug abuse, vandalism and other problems can be combated. Students can be motivated to spend their summers doing something more productive.



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