x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

On the Money: Entry-level jobs build character

A recent change to the UAE labour laws allows students to work part time, an opportunity that presents more than the prospect of pocket money.

Working part time as a student is a rite of passage for millions of teenagers around the world. Not only does it give them control of their own money, but it also teaches them the importance of responsibility and gives them valuable work experience, despite the lack of prospects and the promise of a minimum wage.

My rite of passage started at the tender age of 14, when I got a job washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant for a measly A$2 (the equivalent of Dh7.37 today) an hour. While my parents restricted me to four hours of work a week, which gave me a grand weekly sum of just $8, plus a free meal thrown in for good measure, I learnt a lot during my time as a dishwasher - none more so that I hated doing the dishes. And still do to this day, to be honest, which is why I now pay somebody else to do them for me. An excellent lesson, if I do say so myself.

My parents couldn't get me to wash the dishes at home for love or money, but when it came to my once-a-week job, I couldn't get out of the house fast enough, even though I faced a never-ending pile of dirty dishes.

My job gave me a little maturity, knowledge of how to manage my meagre salary, some much-needed independence and, yes, even a certain amount of responsibility. And there were consequences if I failed, especially if it was a busy night and the clean-plate cupboard was bare. I can still hear my boss, Arthur, shouting at me in Cantonese to get a move on. So different from home, where I was grounded if I failed to clear the table and wash up. Then again, Arthur was so much scarier than my parents.

My teenage working life lasted just two years. By the age of 16, I was washed out. I'd had enough of doing the dishes and couldn't face another sinkful of suds and hot water. So I quit and decided to launch a career in child care, aka babysitting the children in my neighbourhood.

This job was meant to be fun, but those thoughts were dispelled as soon as the parents walked out the door and the screaming began. I gave it away pretty quickly, especially after one night filled with the shouts of a no-longer cute two year old chanting over and over and over: "I want my mummy."

According to the US-based National Consumers League, the five worst jobs for teenagers last year were travelling youth sales crews, construction and height work, lawn services and landscaping, harvesting crops, and driving a forklift or tractor.

Even after my experience, I think babysitting would be more fun than the above.

I finally gave away all thoughts of getting another job and decided to focus on what I did best: being a teenager and practicing my "sandologist" skills, Australian-speak for hanging out at the beach. Besides, there would be plenty of time to stress about work later, such as when I became an adult. And I wasn't wrong there, either.

While many of us worked part time as teenagers in our home countries, for the children of expats, this has been virtually impossible. From expat havens such as Hong Kong and the UAE, teenagers are barred from working part-time jobs.

But a recent change to the UAE's labour laws now allows students - albeit from the age of 18 - to work part time and study.

Of course, they won't be setting their sights on simple jobs such as babysitting and mowing the neighbour's garden, but there are a host of other things they can do to supplement their student incomes and cut down on the need to rely on their parents financially.

The change to the country's labour laws has been welcomed by many, all of them keen to make a financial difference to their lives and that of their families. The experience will be invaluable, too, more so if they are offered a job washing dishes. Take my word for it.



Are you a student looking for part-time work since the labour law was changed? Let us know by e-mailing Personal Finance at pf@thenational.ae