- -  Day # 156  + +

EU > The Netherlands > Utrecht

Early birds

Utrecht, NL (View on map)

During my two-week stay in Sweden, I learnt how reaching personal independence was the main purpose of parents raising Swedish kids. Children in The Netherlands are brought up with the same idea. At an average age of 18 to 20, Dutch children are expected or sometimes encouraged to leave their parental home. In the meantime, they are supposed to have learnt how to support themselves. Sideline jobs, known as `bijbaantjes` are an important stage of growing up. A good reason to ask some young Dutch people about their first jobs.

Thijs (23):

..does not like to be spoilt by his parents
Dutch parents often grant their children weekly or monthly pocket money from the age of 8 years on. However, parents systematically underpay their children or at least provide insufficient support for the children to buy what they want. At the age of 15, the legal minimum age for being employed, many children decide for themselves that their pocket money needs an upgrade. Parents usually encourage small side-jobs, as it helps their kids to learn how to `shell their own beans`, Je eigen boontjes doppen.

Financial reasons
I meet Thijs (23, photo) when he is trying to sell newspaper subscriptions in the city centre of Utrecht. It`s by no means his first job, as he tells: `When I was eleven, I started working in a greenhouse. Nothing much spectacular: just cleaning up the mess. I was paid ?3,50 (EUR 1,50) per hour. It wasn`t much, but enough to buy my own small bag of sweets. After that, I worked in a supermarket as vakkenvuller (shelf filler), in a call centre and once for a temp agency, in a plant manufacturing metal.`

Thijs specifies that his parents are not particularly poor but they think independence is important. I don`t really mind, it`s good to have control over your own life and take responsibility for what you do. I pay for most of what my studies cost and that`s quite a good feeling. I have lived on my own since I turned 18 and I`m perfectly OK with that. Some of my friends get all the money they need from their parents, but I prefer not to be a verwend nest: `spoilt nest`. It feels good to have control over my own life and I will certainly teach that to my children, too.

Almost any Dutch person under 26 wanting to study has access to Studiefinanciering, state grants which can be extended with loans. Since a few years, most of the Studiefinanciering has been made conditional: it needs to be repaid if the student does not successfully complete his/her studies in time. In any case, Studiefinanciering alone is usually insufficient for people to pay for accommodation, food, university fees, books and study materials.

Thijs denies that his choices are not only based on financial motives: `It`s also fun and gezellig. I get to meet a lot of young people so it can only be good. I count selling newspaper subscriptions as sales experience, so it will also be of use next to my Business Administration studies.

Marloes (19) used to have a job in the Horeca (short for Hotel-Restaurant-Caf?), serving dishes in an Italian restaurant for two evenings every week. `But I?m studying Industrial Design in Delft now, and I have very little time to work. The number of contact hours in universities is fairly high, which means you can`t simply skip classes. Apart from that, I am quite fanatic about practicing sports, so I wouldn`t have any time left for working. My parents have been saving money for my studies since I was born, so fortunately I do not have to work right now.

Holiday expenses
Marloes` parents are not the only ones making an important contribution to their children`s studies. Sanne (29) enjoyed the same privilege, but her father told her to get a job to participate in the costs of the family holidays when she turned 15. She explains: `At the time, I started worked in a care home as a cleaning lady. My supervisor was a woman from Surinam, and she learnt me how to clean like nobody else can clean.

During my studies I worked in Thuiszorg, an organisation that provides handicapped people with help in domestic tasks. The girl I was working for was the same age as I. She was blind and couldn`t clean her house on her own. I worked two and a half hours a week on a regular basis. Apart from Thuiszorg, I worked during my holidays every now and then: packing electronic parts, working for temp agency, pretty much everything. It`s interesting to see how much money you can make in a short time, even without a diploma. When I graduated, I had quite some debt with the Studiefinanciering, but my friend helped me get some tax returns which allowed me to pay it all off in one go. Actually, I know only few people who finish their studies with a big overdraft, working next to your studies is too easy. Moreover, parents are usually prepared to lend a hand and cover at least a part of the study expenses.`

Finding a job may be easy for students, but things may get more complicated when they graduate. Sanne tells how many of her friends got stuck to their bijbaantje: `They either didn`t manage to find a job that corresponded to their diploma, or simply preferred to keep doing whatever they were doing during their studies. Fortunately, the Dutch labour market is quite flexible. I know plenty of people who studied social sciences and ended up in IT (Information Technology).`

Few people think that the high number of young people and students looking for job jeopardise the labour market for older people with no diplomas. Over the last 20 years, The Netherlands has had unemployment figures of approximately 5%, and the general perception prescribes that there`s work for everyone who wants to work. Not always at a level that corresponds with people`s qualification, but there is always something to do.

Karina (28) started working when she was 14. `I worked at the bread and pastry counter of department store HEMA. I wasn`t legally allowed to work yet, and got paid shit, but wanted to do something so I could go shopping`, she says. She continued working for HEMA on Saturdays and during evening sales until she started studying, at the age of 20. `My parents paid the university fees, but not the costs of living. I worked as a nutrition assistant at the university hospital in Nijmegen, which had very little to do with my studies of Organisation and Management.`

Karina thinks that working at a young age helps people prepare for real working life: `It provided me with mensenkennis (knowledge of human character), helped me deal with criticism and mistakes, taught me responsibility and team work.` Her boss did not take her study load into consideration. Instead she worked on a 0-hours contract, meaning that she could turn down any offer to work if she couldn`t fit it in with her studies or exams. `On average, I worked about 16 hours a week, which was sufficient to independently carry the costs of my studies. Anyway, I think studying without working is not possible financially, provided that you do not want up with tremendous unpaid loans upon completing your studies.`

Judged by job responsibility, sideline jobs do not add a lot of weight to a CV. Nevertheless, many employers value the fact that job candidates have started working at a young age. Many Dutch young people are as proud of their cycling consciousness as their ability to keep their own pants up. No wonder the Algemeen Dagblad portrayed their jobs for newspaper distributors as `only suitable for heroes`: they combine the Dutch virtues of for cycling, hard work, making money, getting up early and beating the elements.

Enlarge photo | Link to this article