At Avenue House Senior Coordinator Phelokazi Mbebe, Shaqirah Taliep Accommodation Assistant,
and Yolanda Tshililo student Front Desk Assistant for the June/July vacation Photo: Elaine Woodbridge
UCT students residing in residences are recruited and appointed as student staff on a bi-annual basis; they have an exciting role to play as vac accommodation staff, contributing to UCT’s vac staff component while getting invaluable work experience, and earning an income. We spoke to Front Desk Assistant Yolanda Tshililo about her job.
Being a Student Front Desk Assistant
Yolanda Tshililo Student Front Desk Assistant for the mid-year vacation Photo: Elaine Woodbridge
The role of Student Front Desk Assistant involves general admin, assessing student applications, booking in guests and handling their queries. Yolanda Tshililo was Student Front Desk Assistant during the January to February vac period in 2017. The Student Housing & Residence Life department (SH&RL) pairs up student staff with older, more experienced staff from the Vacation Accommodation Office so they are not alone in any tricky situations and have more opportunities for learning on the job. Yolanda worked with Shaqirah Taliep from the Vacation Accommodation Office in SH&RL and the two formed a friendly, supportive partnership over the vac period that helped them to serve UCT residence guests together. UCT’s vacation guests in residence are both students who stay on during the vac by arrangement and commercial guests. The two groups require quite different approaches.
Challenges and opportunities
One of the challenges, reports Yolanda (who resides at Groote Schuur residence), was becoming a member of the University’s staff and dealing with students from the other side so to speak. ‘Suddenly my peers saw me differently’, she said, ‘and I had to learn to establish boundaries and in some instances to stand my ground. It taught me to know my strengths and weakness’, she laughs. In particular it was challenging to cater for the large number of students writing deferred exams at the beginning of 2017. A student staying in residence for the purpose of writing a deferred exam has to arrive 24 to 48 hours before the exam and leave the day after. That’s a lot of coordination, check-ins and check outs. Difficulties arose when students, on occasion, arrived early or did not leave on time.
The role can be socially challenging for student staff and helps to grow communication skills. Typical of any hospitality work, guests can sometimes make unreasonable demands which need to be dealt with individually. On the positive side, there are plenty of opportunities to meet students from other universities and even other countries. ‘I especially enjoyed helping foreign students with their questions about UCT residence life and campus,’ says Yolanda, who made a few lasting friendships as a Student Front Desk Assistant.
Why become a Student Front Desk Assistant?
‘It’s a great opportunity,’ says Yolanda enthusiastically. ‘You discover a lot about yourself, learn about teamwork and get work experience, meet interesting people, and it can help you to network for the future,’ she explains. ‘You have to learn how to be disciplined and to multitask, which are useful skills I can apply to my studies,’ she asserts. There is some time for personal pursuits but the work is full time, leaving limited hours for academic studies. ‘To really benefit from the opportunity,’ she explains, ‘one shouldn’t have too many academic pressures during the vac.’ Yolanda’s valuable experience helped her to get more temporary vac work in SH&RL where she again works alongside her previous partner Shaqirah in the Vacation Accommodation office, handling bookings.
Interested in applying?
If you are interested in being a Front Desk Assistant or in applying for any of the other vacation jobs during 2018, get in touch with Student Housing & Residence Life on 021 650 1052 to find out about the application process.