Balancing work while studying

By Agnes Aineah and Silas Nyanchwani | Thursday, Aug 9th 2018 at 13:35
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At a private law firm in Nairobi, Bill Wanyonyi who juggles school and work clears his desk to call it a day. It is only shortly after midday but Mr Wanyonyi, a second year student at the University of Nairobi has ticked off most tasks on his job description at Mwangale Company & Advocates, where he has been working since he started school.

Here, the 21-year-old files cases, prepares legal documents before filing the cases and attending relevant court proceedings. He was still a freshman at UoN when he landed the job after a grueling selection process.

But he was majorly taken in to learn while on the job that came with a Sh20,000 salary offer. He says the six-month stint has helped in his studies.

“When I go to work, I am able to gain practical skills in communication, problem solving and in my relationship with other people. It wouldn’t be the same if I just relied on theory,” says Mr Wanyonyi, a Law student at UoN.

Even as Mr Wanyonyi and a few other students accept work-study arrangements, many Kenyan students still graduate from institutions of higher learning without proper prior work experience.

What most have to prove practical ability is the mandatory industrial attachment engaged in while in school.

But in the developed world, it is not uncommon to find students working while studying.

This is largely due to the fact that the cost of living is usually high, especially in big city universities such as London, New York, Berlin or California.

The jobs available to students are usually modest assignments like clerical jobs, waiting at restaurants, or filing books in libraries. Most immigrant students have no choice but to work, even illegally, to make ends meet.

Even then, the invaluable importance of working while you are still a student is indisputable. Working while studying can improve one’s organisational and time management skills that come in handy in the future.

Career experts say students who are employed while in college allocate their time more efficiently, acquire workplace rules and find focused inspiration in their studies.

It helps to work while you are still a student to grow the necessary resilience that comes in handy when one finally graduates and joins the industry.

Other useful skills a student gains while working include team work, problem solving skills, professionalism and effective communication skills. Diana Awuor Ojera just graduated from Bloomfield College in New Jersey America after pursuing a nursing course. While in college, she picked work depending on the school schedule and class load.

The first two years, she worked at least 30 hours a week and in third year with more workload at school, she only worked during weekends. Ms Ojera mostly worked with developmentally disabled individuals.

“It is a job of providing direct care to clients in their homes. This essentially involves cooking for them, showering them, toileting, cooking and administration and even driving them to work or any activity that helps become active members of the society,” she says.

Diana advises peers who look down on ‘lowly jobs’ that these experiences make them stronger candidates while looking for a professional job upon graduation. “It also makes you independent at an earlier age, like me the last time I asked for money from my parents for my personal needs was when I was in high school,” says the nursing student.

She makes approximately Sh1,200 per hour and works for 30 hours which translates to Sh72,000 every fortnight.

She uses the money for tithe, insurance, food shopping and to service her car. While challenging, she has never regretted.

She says, that hers is a common job in America and most student prefer it due to its flexibility, giving them time to study and even do their homework. It is a job one can get by applying to employment agencies, and with one-week training, one is ready to start work.

“I’m an avid advocate of working while studying, as long as the work will not interfere with your performance in class,” she says, “working while studying provides integral benefits that a student would not receive otherwise.”

In Japan, Harriet Ocharo, a Computer Science PhD student has done several jobs to make ends meet. She has taught English grammar, worked at a convenience store, and as a teaching assistant.

“Three times, I have been a teaching assistant for an intensive English course. But these are always seasonal and depends on whether my schedule is free at the time,” she says.

She says most students on scholarship working in these jobs in Japan generally earn 700-2,000 Yen (approximately Sh600-1,700) daily that goes a long way to augment their allocation. For her, however, the biggest challenge is that it is very hard to do the studying part, as you use all your energies to work and studies are neglected.

“It can be very hard to pick from where you left.”

But in developed countries, these opportunities are readily available. This is in stark contrast to developing countries where unemployment is tittering over 40 per cent.

Professor Robert Gacheru, the Vice-Chancellor at Riara University believes that there are many available jobs that students should embrace. “It is a good idea to take up side hustles, because in the present environment has created innumerable opportunities for students to get an income,” he says.

“There are less demanding jobs that they can do even from the comfort of their bedroom such as online writing jobs,” he says.

The flexibility of learning hours, meaning those working can even enroll for evening classes makes it all the better for students.

He says, in a study done at the university, the first cohort of students, after six months of graduating, 25 per cent of the students had either started their own enterprise and the majority of the rest had been absorbed into formal employment.

But he warns that a side hustle can distract students. And this need not be the case.

“Some short term economic gain need not make one sacrifice the long term goals of education,” he warns, “don’t go to university for certificates, even successful entrepreneurs are constantly learning, often going for short term courses, if they have to,” he says, commending those who are able to balance school, work and family.

Locally, there are students who have taken to business or work while they study. Common jobs include coding, fashion styling, as well as investing in the hospitality industry.

One such student is Winnie Oduor, a fourth year Bachelor of Commerce (Finance) student who not only sells clothes but also styles her clients. And now, the business that initially only reached her close circles has outgrown baby steps. “I started by selling clothes to my friends and moved to styling. I mostly do this only during weekends to ensure that it does not affect my studies. I am now less dependent on her parents and have learnt invaluable lessons on how to handle customers,” says Ms Oduor.

Mundia Kinyua, a former student at the University of Nairobi, who held a job throughout his college stint, advocates for youth to begin work early.

“It will always give you an upper hand when you graduate,” he says, adding, “sometimes someone with a lower grade but with experience is more useful to an employer than someone with a first class, without experience, because it shows you are a risk taker.”

What inspired him to work harder was because he could not afford the school fees. Students whose parents pay for them school fees and offer upkeep, are rarely motivated to work hard and even get a job. But according to career advisors, such students end up wasting a lot of time.

Upon graduation and working briefly, Mr Kinyua was able to transit into entrepreneurship successfully.

“If you can get an opportunity, embrace it and start early, it will give some competitive advantage” says Mr Kinyua.

It is upon the student to be proactive to tailor their schedule to accommodate both school and work.

For this to work, they may also need an understanding supervisor at work who is willing to put up with the schedule.

“You need to know when examinations are due, and when projects must be submitted and plan ahead,” Diana advises.

Mr Wanyonyi confesses that achieving a proper work-study balance has not been easy. “When I started, managing time for me was pure struggle. I could run into class time while at work and become frustrated,” says the UoN student.

He says that now, with a clear timetable and discipline, he is able to navigate between work and his classes without much hassle.

Joran Ndiragu, who pursues a course in Criminology in African Nazarene University, has worked as a trainer of models with La Nostra Squadra House and as an attendant for a hardware in Gikomba. With flexible hours, he went to school in the morning and went to work in the evening. 

“Initially, it worked but as I advanced my studies, school consumed most of my time and I started losing out focus in my classes,” he says. He negotiated with lecturers and dropped some of the units, postponing to the next semester and it worked quite well.

“I also could get a day off from work when school matters became demanding.” Ndiragu advises students to take up a job.

“It is a very positive feeling to know how to control and handle your money without going off course. To me, education comes first, but a good CV paints a good picture.”    

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