Untapped Resource: Do you have Student Web Workers?

I know D.W. wrote about her student workers over on The Old College Try a while back (Update: Thanks D.W. for finding the post A Marketer in Need Deserves a Student Indeed), but I can’t seem to find the post.  Also Web Managerat HighEdWebTech even went so far as creating a Hall of Fame for retired student workers.  Do you have student workers that support your web office?  I sure hope so!

This seems like one of most obvious, most overlooked, and easiest way to beef up what we all lack more than even funding, time.  Bottom line student workers have allowed us to do more for the Wofford’s web presence over the past few years than anything else. It has also been a ton of fun to work with them.

Update: Please be sure to check out this post and fill out our survey about Student Workers as we are doing a little research.

Click Here to take the Employer survey

Click Here to take the Student survey

So take your pick.  You can either watch the video, read the points below or maybe do both?

So let’s look at some of the reasons that YOU need to hire student workers.

  • Untapped Resource of a variety of skills.  We work at institutes of Higher Learning for crying out loud.  We have an eager to learn student body of the brightest and smartest young adults in the area right at our fingertips.  Granted they aren’t always perfect, but you have a range of majors and talent available if you simple look or ask.
  • Low Cost.  Let’s be brutally honest, student workers are cheap labor!  They will work for a lot less money than a full time employee and you don’t have to worry about the extra perks of providing them insurance, retirement, vacation days, etc.  Besides if one doesn’t work out you let them go and go fishing again.
  • Great Real World Experience.  Yes that’s right a students working for you is a great resume builder for them.  They are at school to learn so why not learn skills of real world business value also?
  • They GET Social Media.  Are you having trouble wrapping your head around Social Media and how to use it?  If your students are like mine they already spend two hours a day on Facebook and offering to pay them to spend more time… well you see where I’m going.
  • They can also teach you.  Just as I mentioned with Social Media there are plenty of opportunities to let them play with a new technology then teach it to you.  A lot of times I’ll read about something new then my next student to come in that day I’ll say hey check out xyz and tell me what you think.  Is there any value in it?
  • No more 5 minute tasks.  I believe that the stat says it takes 20 minutes of uninterrupted thought before you can actually focus on something.  Well with emails, phone calls, bosses, twitter, needy faculty/staff, and all those other interruptions out there it can get pretty much impossible to focus on something.  Train a student to do the little tasks them let them jump in and handle them.  Not only do they get done and you can focus on bigger projects, but the students actually feel like they are contributing and being a part of a team.

Convinced yet?  So now that I’ve convinced you to higher them let’s talk a little about strategy to make it work.

  • Pay more than minimum wage.  These students aren’t doing thoughtless labor like answering an occasional phone call or manning a desk.  They are actually thinking and providing real value to the institution.  Start them out a few extra dollars above minimum wage.
  • Hire Sophomores.  We hire sophomores because we get them for three years.  Freshman can be a nightmare and they need that extra year to mature.
  • Expect a lot.  That’s right expect quality.  Don’t be overexpecting because bottom line #1 priority has to be for them to get their education, but have them come up with a work schedule and stick with it.  We hire ours for 10-12 hours a week.  Not to much, but enough to get actual work done.
  • Semester Contracts.  Make sure they realize they are on a semester to semester contract.  You aren’t going to get rid of a great worker, but if you have one who just isn’t reliable well they don’t need to come back next semester.
  • Let them take ownership in the program.  Because we have had this system running for a few years now our seniors train and work with the underclass members.  The newest members get the more mundane daily tasks with the incentive of getting to do cooler projects as they learn more and one day train someone else to do the mundane tasks that they currently handle.  Also this means less training by me.
  • Positive Encouragement.  Treat them like you want to be treated.   Actually care and understand their exam schedule.  Take them to lunch occasionally, thank them for their hard work regularly, and provide stimulating projects to match their skills and interests.
  • Ask students who you should hire.  This has been extremely helpful.  When we are looking for a new member of the team now I just ask the current who they think would be the best fit for the team and most responsible.  After deciding on the skill set we lack they put the feeders out and find qualified applicants.  This also helps your team morale because you aren’t hiring students that can’t get along and work well together.

Working with student workers has been one of my biggest pleasures of my job as Webmaster.  Working with the all-stars of tomorrow and helping mold and watch them grow into adults is truly rewarding.

So to Lara, Craig, James, Alex, Nick, Jamie, Mollie, Steven, Will, Daniel, Autumn, David, and anyone whom I might have forgot, Thank You and it’s been a pleasure.  Some of you are already out in the world doing incredible things and I know the rest of you will be soon enough.

I wish you nothing but the best and I’ll always be there to help out anyway that I can.

I’d love to hear your stories of student worker success and any other tips you would offer to managing them.  Please share in the comments below.

15 Responses to “Untapped Resource: Do you have Student Web Workers?”

  1. Says:

    And don’t forget, if you are using student workers (or not), be sure to take the time to fill out the research form on the topic I’m using to collect data from. https://doteduguru.com/id1338-student-worker-research.html

    There’s a survey there for employers, and one for the students. I’ll be reporting back on the results early in ’09.

  2. Says:

    Found it for you! The post is from January: https://higheredmarketing.blogspot.com/2008/01/marketer-in-need-deserves-student.html

    I had to search for it for a bit myself!

  3. Says:

    Our department may be an exception to your “hire sophomores” rule. Two of our three student employees are freshmen (including the one in our electronic marketing office). The third student is a junior chemistry major who writes news releases as well as any English major we’ve ever hired. (Oh, for a journalism program on our campus.) All three of our students do great work. We’re very fortunate.

  4. Says:

    It can also help them get launched into a career after college. I was a student worker in the marketing office at my school, helping out with the web, photography and ‘social media’ before it was known as that (forums, sharing videos, etc.).

    I can’t help but look back at all of those people who gave me the opportunities and smile. :) Which makes me turn around and provide the same opportunities for my 9 student workers.

  5. Says:

    @Fienen - Thanks I knew I forgot something. I added the links to the post and surveys to the top of the post.

    @D.W. - Thanks for the link. I updated the post to include it.

    @Andrew - If you can make Freshman work for you all the better! You have them for four years.

    @Brad - After 911 and getting laid off at the local IT shop as a bench tech I was fortunate enough to stumble into a campus job working with professors on websites and web initiatives for a year and half before moving back to IT for a few more years. Great to give back and get them excited.

  6. Says:

    Brad - You’re a stellar example of how these student positions can lead to rewarding careers. I doubt our students (chemistry, petroleum engineering and environmental engineering) will ever go into any sort of communications work, but at least they’re learning more about an area that could perhaps help them in the future, when they’re trying to explain complex technical issues to thick-headed marketing dweebs. ;)

  7. Says:

    Students are great! Most of the Web Communications staff in my department including myself started out as student assistants. We currently have two and they never cease to amaze me what they find and do not only on our time but on theirs too.

    Also, love the use of video in your post.

  8. Says:

    I’ve had good student workers and not-so-good student workers. Having extra hands to handle side projects is a great thing. This is a great post.

  9. Says:

    I also got my start in admission as a student intern, but now I find myself encountering student workers in a totally different light. We have a few schools we work with that are asking their students to design publications. Not the viewbook exactly but the study abroad brochures and other supporting materials. Shouldn’t there be some times when you call in the experts?

  10. Says:

    I’ve always had students at varying levels of interest and I still find that generally we don’t engage them the way we ought to for one reason or another. Either due to the workload available at the time or for other reasons. I think this is one of the desperate needs for web offices to control their own workflows if they don’t.

  11. Says:

    I sometimes refer to using student workers without a strategy as “gradsourcing”.

    Sometimes the temptation is to throw a student worker on a project just because the project was not given the resources for a full-time employee. The problem is that if these projects span longer than the term of a single student and/or need to be scalable, a student may not be thinking about the bigger picture.

    I’ve witnessed the clean-up on grad-sourced projects and would recommend before gradsourcing a project, that you set clear expectations, define goals, and have a full-time person with knowledge in that area provide oversight.

  12. Says:

    For us it is a pipe dream. The concept is great, but it has never come to fruition. We have real issue with this because we can not rely or plan on having student workers from one semester to another. One semester you have a major data cruncher, next someone who can do flash well, but we only get what we get.

    For instance this semester our start pupil got an full time internship and jumped ship. Now we has 3 to 4 major project that are delayed or on hold because we do not have the man power to accomplish them.

    We also have an issue with expectation, a great student sets the bar high for our capacity. They leave, that expectation is still around.

  13. Says:

    @Jeremy - As I suggested above have you tried using student workers to handle the little nitpicky day-to-day stuff so YOU can focus more on the big projects? I mean just being able to pass on all the little minor edits and checking on site things can consume a whole day. Make a list of all the small five minute things that need to be done weekly and have students work on those things not your major projects. If they do turn out to be reliable and you keep them long term then you can begin to entrust them with larger projects. I never give a large project to a fresh student worker. I might give them a piece of a project but play small ball with the students and you free up your time.

  14. Says:

    Just stumbled upon Fienen’s post and was redirected by James here.
    Taking into account all pros and cons we must agree on the evidence of positivity of suggested practices.
    The other question is a good will… but it’s not actually a question:)

  15. Says:

    I particularly agree with the strategies you have pointed out to connect with a student worker in your office. These are exactky the actions that will make them motivated. In fact, an Oxbridge student said: “I study hard, but still have lots of spare time to do the things I enjoy. I don’t hear people with jobs saying the same thing.”