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“The Beating Heart of Our Business” — Student Labour in St Andrews

Of over 18,000 St Andrews residents, over 10,000 are students at the University of St Andrews, which recorded a total enrollment of 10,425 total students in the first semester of the 2021–2022 academic year — 8,260 undergraduates and 2,164 postgraduates. As Barry Will, President of the Students’ Association, recently told the BBC, for many of those students, part–time work is “absolutely essential” for making rent and meeting the rising cost of living. In university towns like St Andrews, student employment is necessary not only for the students themselves, but also for many local businesses.

Jan Leenhouts, owner and manager of Taste Coffee Shop, told The Saint that student labour is “very important” to Taste. He said his experience working with students has been “extremely good” and that “they are the beating heart of our business.”

Given the University’s three month summer break, it’s reasonable to assume that student employment would be largely seasonal in St Andrews, with the roster of student workers varying significantly each academic year. However, this is not the case for businesses like We Are Zest Cafe. Though We Are Zest specialises in disability employment, it also employs students without disabilities alongside its core team.

Lisa Cathro, owner and manager of We Are Zest, said that she does not “see the business case or point of continually rehiring [or] training new people all every year when you can accommodate continuity of employment for a student worker.” According to Cathro, employee retention “reduces costs in recruitment [and] training” for her business. She said, “The only reason I can see for not working this way is to avoid student employees gaining employment rights after two years – which I think is wrong.”

There’s a similar approach at Taste where “[student workers] only leave when they graduate. If our staff are here during the summer we keep them on the roster, otherwise we put them back on the roster after the summer break,” Leenhouts said. He added that the break “doesn’t affect [Taste] at all, [sic] it just works very well.”

The University has made available resources for students seeking employment to deal with the cost of living crisis or find career opportunities beyond their university years. University of St Andrews students can use the CareerConnect platform to search for part–time jobs as well as internships and graduate opportunities. CareerConnect allows local employers to advertise job listings appropriate for students and students to search and apply for the listings that suit their availability.

Image: Helen Lipsky

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