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The eight-hour part timers

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The first week of the month is always serious business for 21-year-old Pabin Dhakal. He makes it a point to sit and mentally break down the budget for his share of expenses. He already knows socializing is going to make for the majority of his costs, so ‘fun with friends’ is a main fixture in his budgeting list. He puts aside at least Rs 5000 for it. The next important factor is accommodation. Since he wanted to shoulder some family responsibility, he has volunteered to pay rent for the Rs 8,000 two room flat that he shares with his relatives. Then there is the Rs 1,500 monthly college fee and some miscellaneous expense.

“I guess I won’t be saving this month either,” Dhakal concludes.

But all hope isn’t lost, not yet. Since he works in the marketing department at an ad agency, he also calculates his chances of earning commissions. The pressure is on. However, he states he still prefers this fate to that of some of his classmates who continue to be fully dependent on their parents. Dhakal again sets his alarm for five in the morning and braces himself to perhaps, if necessary, even work till the evening after college.

It’s a snapshot of life as a student-employee in Kathmandu. As we can see, the trend of students taking up jobs has been rapidly catching on in our capital. Where three decades ago it was unusual for Nepali students to be locally working at cafes and restaurants or even be given the opportunity to apply for proper posts in offices, now Dhakal, for instance, shares that around 50% of his peers are all working somewhere.

“I think it has a lot to do with how expensive Kathmandu has become. Be it the price of food or just hanging out with your friends, the last time my pocket money covered the costs was a long time ago,” says Dhakal.

But he also adds that his decision to continue working was influenced by the improvements that he has seen in himself. He is happy that because of his job he has already had the opportunity to assist with projects, take care of accounting, and directly deal with potential clients. Apparently this has done wonders to his confidence.

Arjun Sharma, 23, also shares a similar story. He is juggling his role as a Bachelor’s student and barista at the White Himalaya coffee station on the ground floor of Kathmandu Mall. It’s only his second year working there but he claims to have gathered so much experience from the job that now, on top of his to-do list, is to open his own coffee shop.

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“The difference between students who work and don’t is very clear. I think it shows in the way they carry themselves, their topics of conversation and even their future plans,” explains Sharma.

Even though he too was compelled to start working for economical reasons after moving to Kathmandu from his hometown Baglung, he reveals that the job has given him a lot more perspective than he had even expected. Apparently, he hasn’t also met anybody who has thought less of him because he is working as a waiter. Even though he admits this to be a concern initially, now he appreciates how our society’s views have matured in this regard.

“My family respects that I’m working hard to be independent and that I’m self sufficient now. Around 40% of my friends also work and they are spread across different sectors. We don’t look down upon one another because we all know that juggling college and studies is challenging here,” says Sharma.

Indeed, surprisingly, despite this increase of students in our work force, unlike foreign countries, the concept of ‘part time jobs’ hasn’t set in our country yet. For example in Dhakal’s case, even though he is allowed to report to work at 11 am, he has to work till 5:30 pm and sometimes even stay back till the late hours as well depending on the projects at hand. Sharma too is expected to complete eight hours duty each day.

Vacancy sites like merojob.com also attest to this system. Even though several students apply to their online vacancies on a daily basis, they confirm that posts that are part time are few and far between. Even popular establishments like Pizza Hut and KFC have stopped hiring part timers now.

Rabita Basukala, shift manager at Pizza Hut confirms that they have many student workers, but, they too are expected to complete their regular eight hour shift. “Special arrangements for part time employees are prevalent abroad but this system hasn’t caught on here in Kathmandu. Eight hours is a requirement here and our employees are well aware of this before joining the team. They shift their classes if they have to and manage somehow,” informs Basukala.

Along similar lines, Atma Guragai, managing director of Dhakal’s ad agency, shares her reservation about hiring part timers. According to her, there is always that doubt that the young ones working part time might not be fully committed to their work. So Guragai confesses that her agency too prefers hiring full time employees. However, her decision to hire Dhakal and another two part timers was the shifting trend.

“We chose to be more flexible with our full-time-staff-only rule because we can see the trend slightly shifting. At a time when out hiring pool is shrinking, more students are applying for jobs. I believe this is the right time to form a system to help them. I believe if they are capable, we must accommodate their needs as well. This could work well for both the parties involved,” says Guragai

And she isn’t wrong. For instance, establishments like Ekta Books don’t hesitate to hire part timers. They manage their shifts according to their employees’ classes and the system has encouraged many young book enthusiasts to apply. Suveckshya Limbu, 18, sales assistant at the Thapathali branch is one of them.

As she puts it, it’s not necessary for her to have a job but working part time for these last two years has helped her gain a lot of exposure and experience.

“There are people my age who just go to college and then go back home. I don’t want to be one of them. Here I get to meet new people and start conversations about books with them. And in the process, I’m earning as well. That’s an added bonus. If more youngsters could do this, it would be very empowering,” concludes Limbu.

By Priyanka Gurung

The writer can be reached at priyankagurungg@gmail.com