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Balancing QCE: Part-Time Work and Study

By Jamon Windeyer in QCE
11th of February 2019
balancing qce

Part time jobs are awesome for a wealth of reasons. They provide great experience for later life, help you develop key skills, offer the chance for new friendships and, of course, help you rake in some ‘hella mad dosh.’

Problem is, part time jobs can be demanding, not only on your time but on your energy as well. A lot of people would say it is a bad idea to work during your final year of study. Many people resign from their jobs throughout the year. And yes, that’s a fair viewpoint. I disagree with it, but it is fair.

There is this perception out there at the moment that to get a high score (however you may define that), you need to give up every aspect of your life. Get home at 3:30, study from 4:00-9:00, eat, shower and go to sleep. Eat, sleep, study, repeat. Anything else is just a distraction…

Now THAT is unfair. Come on, you are a teenager!

My point being, you absolutely do NOT need to eliminate everything else from your life. A part time job is an awesome way to get away from the rigour of QCE study and do something else with your brainpower (or brawn, as the case may be).

I had a part-time job at KFC for 4.5 years. No I do not know the secret herbs and spices, the ingredients list on the box just says “secret herbs and spices.” Go figure. The last year of that was Year 12, and by then I was a Crew Trainer working 15-20 hours a week, either training out the front or cooking out the back. I’d usually lose one weeknight a week plus a long shift on a Saturday or Sunday, occasionally both.

Keeping that job was one of the best decisions I ever made at the start of my final year. I did consider quitting, for all the usual reasons. Time, energy, motivation. But I stayed on, and it was fantastic. Work was really great about my schedule, making sure if I needed a night off to catch up on work I had it. I got a Certificate II in Retail while working, which was fantastic. I saved up some extra money to pay for a holiday at the end of the year, and I got WAY better at working with people. Finally, and very importantly for some of you, part time jobs massively increase your likelihood of obtaining a scholarship for university studies. It definitely helped me in being fortunate enough to get mine.

The list goes on, but the point is, part time jobs are awesome. I totally recommend keeping a part-time job throughout your QCE. Here are a few of my tips to make it flow more smoothly during a very busy year.

Be Open with your Employer

Let’s consider two alternate scenarios.

You have an assignment due in a week that you need to work on. You call in sick for your weeknight shift, then on the weekend you come to work like a zombie. Why? Because you pulled an all nighter on Friday getting it half finished. Employer sees you as someone who comes to their job un-enthusiastic and doesn’t give a damn.

You have an assignment due in a week that you need to work on. You give your boss a call a few days before your shift and your like, “Yo, I need more time to work on this.” No worries, your weeknight shift is cut by a few hours so you can get home and work on it, and you agree to take an extra shift next weekend when you are less busy. Employer sees you as a dedicated student balancing their time.

Obviously one of these is way better than the other.

Look, employers understand that you are a student (assuming you are in retail, where like three quarters of the workforce study somewhere). They get you will have times when you need a bit of a lapse in shifts. The important thing is to be open with them about what you need, how much you can work, and all that sort of stuff. Being given more hours than you can handle is not good for anyone. Speaking of which…

Set a Cap for How Many Hours You Work

Everyone has different levels of commitment. For me, KFC was really the only big additional commitment I had. Others have sports, tutoring, family duties; you get the idea. So I really can’t say, “Work for this many hours.” Indeed, no one told me the answer to that question either.

What I did was this. Grab a whiteboard or an Excel spreadsheet or something equally pretty, and set yourself up a weekly timetable. Start it at 7:00am (don’t worry, I blacked out 7-9 on Sunday morning) and finish it whenever you normally get to sleep.

Start by filling in the compulsory parts of your week, beginning of course with school (remember travel times). Then, add other compulsory stuff.

Then (and this is the tricky bit), set yourself aside study blocks. That’s the only recommendation I’ll make, that study time takes priority over part time work in the long run. Make sure you have an appropriate amount of time to revise, make notes, finish assignments, everything you need to do. For QCE, 20 hours at home in the week should be heaps, give or take depending on who you are and how you study.

Now look at your timetable again. Add in black out periods (put a big black cross with a permanent marker) for socialising, sleep ins, time with the BF/GF, family time, doing nothing, etc. This is important. Don’t sacrifice ALL of your leisure time for part time work.

How many hours do you have left? I remember when I did mine I had just over 25 left over, so I set a cap of 20, and usually worked between 15-20 hours a week. This was comfortable for me, as I could overflow with assignment work if I needed to.

This exercise will help you really prioritise and visualise your week, and decide on a cap for working hours. Be realistic with this goal. Also, communicate it to your boss as it (perhaps) changes throughout the year.

Work Part Time and Save Holidays for When You Need Them Most

You’ll almost definitely be employed as either a Casual Worker or a Part Time worker.

I won’t go into the specifics of each. What I will say is give serious thought to being employed under a part time contract where possible.

There are benefits like job security and sick pay which are great, but the big reason I want to chat about is holidays.

I worked at KFC as a Casual for a few years. I switched to a Part-Time contract at the start of Year 11. This came with a pay cut (no casual loading), which sucked at first admittedly. It was worth it though. I worked for 2 years and built up a heap of annual leave. The hours accrued to about 2 months of paid leave.

I used all of those holidays at once during the end-of-year exam period. Left work in early September, came back mid November. This 2-month break was an absolute god sent. It was one of the reasons why I went into my exams really confident and ended up doing really well. Being able to focus on my studies and the exams helped immensely.

Honestly, this probably isn’t the nicest thing to do to an employer. A lot of retail outlets (particularly fast food) lose quite a few employees due to exams around October. But you need to look after yourself, and for me that was a decision I was determined to make. Be open with your employer, communicate your needs to them. If you are transparent and organised, and provide lots of notice, they are more likely to be accomodating!

The point of all this jabber? If you have the luxury of earning holidays instead of casual loading, do it. Then save those holidays for busy periods. Use the leave to take a week off when you need it, or to take a month off at the end of year for exams like I did. Being able to put work aside and focus, while still having money coming in, is super beneficial. It can make the world of difference if you use it right.

Enjoy It!

I think the biggest thing to ensure about a part time job is enjoyment. Love your job! The QCE is stressful enough by itself. The last thing you want is an additional source of frustration.

If you are in a job that fulfils you and gives you something different to engage with, it can be a superb motivational tool to get you through the QCE period. If you are in a job that frustrates you or has you stressed before you even open a textbook (you shouldn’t be stressed from work, not at our age anyway), then maybe it is time to move on.

A part time job is a great addition to a QCE year, and if handled correctly, can improve your state of mind and send your results skyward.

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