The on-demand gig economy is transforming another corner of the job market: the summer job for students.
Recent high-school grads and college students are turning to startups like Uber, TaskRabbit, Instacart and Postmates for work like delivering groceries or handling tech work for businesses. Unlike in traditional summer jobs, students can set their own schedule, and they don’t have to sell themselves to neighbors or managers to get work—the on-demand jobs are largely there for the asking.
At some of the businesses, students make up a sizable chunk of the workforce: At grocery-delivery service Instacart, about 25% of workers are students, according to the company. At Eden, a year-old office-tech-support startup in San Francisco, roughly 10% of the workforce is made up of students, says Chief Executive Joe Du Bey. “There’s not a better source of smart, enthusiastic [workers] than students,” Mr. Du Bey says.
Another delivery service, Postmates, courts students throughout the year by advertising on college campuses and posting jobs to sites including Craigslist. Other companies have similar outreach efforts, and often have targeted ad campaigns via social media.
“We spend a lot of time going to schools and distributing fliers,” saysRussell Cook, senior vice president of operations at Postmates, which serves more than 40 markets and focuses on food delivery.
One big advantage to using students, he says, is that they like to work on weekends—when demand is high—and stay off the platform during slower weekday times. More broadly, the on-demand companies say that they have a much higher demand for workers during the summer months, which also dovetails with students’ schedule.
For all the apparent advantages, though, some career experts warn that the jobs may hold risks for younger workers that may not be apparent at first. For one thing, a work environment with few rules can be difficult for younger workers used to operating within fairly strict parameters at school.
For some, this kind of laid-back summer job can make it more difficult to feel motivated, so students take only a small amount of job assignments and end up without much income to show for it.
“If you crave structure, look for a different work environment,” saysSuzanne Shaffer, a Dallas-based college coach.
Some students, meanwhile, may balk at the unsteady pay, which depends on a company’s peak times.
Transportation can be another issue. At some delivery companies, workers must have their own car—a deal breaker for some students. And some younger workers may fail a background check, which is mandatory at startups including Postmates, because they don’t have a long enough driving history, and there’s not enough information about their criminal history.
A flexible setup
Some startups are trying to find ways to build stronger ties with student workers. To better build community, Eden invites its “wizards” to hang out in the office and get to know the staff. Keeping the workers engaged between jobs helps build company culture and make the freelance staff feel valued, says Mr. Du Bey.
Some students have even found themselves growing with the startup. Anthony Garcia, 20, a student at Las Positas College, joined Eden as a Task Wizard last June and would work flexible hours to help local startups with any kind of in-office work, including setting up for events or aiding an office move. Rather than quit in the fall, Mr. Garcia stayed on completing tasks and was recently hired for a full-time human-resources role to help the startup recruit other students.
He found the opening on Craigslist when browsing iPhone-repair tech jobs, because he didn’t want to go back to a cashier role at a nearby grocery chain. “It’s a step up from my normal job history,” he says.
Ms. Dizik is a writer in New York. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.