Let me start with saying that I for one am not against Internships..per se.
I myself was encouraged to take someone on (on an internship) during my previous position, and I found the whole experience justifiable, as ended up taking that, very qualified and hard working person on, on a six month paid contract, to cover a maternity position. However, although it was never openly said, you did get the feeling that some commercial businesses could completely take advantage of the system.
During the last 3-4 years, with the world gripped by financial instability and companies making redundancy and re-structuring decisions, in hindsight it comes of little surprise that big businesses fell in love with ’employing’ interns, in all parts of the business. Was it a case of covering office duties with free labour, or giving graduates and the NEET generation valuable work experience?
The media love a scandal. Catching on to the ‘interns issue’ (whilst I am sure most of their offices would have employed interns at some point) they ‘shocked’ the general public by highlighting the plight of the ‘shelf stacking graduate’ who was in many cases exploited to, without sounding cynical…. stack shelves. Was it exploitation? Of course. Was this typical of internships in general ? Probably not.
TheEmployable are all about encouraging people to improve their employability. On occasion, recession or not, this may mean taking risks, working for free and gaining valuable work and life experience. A quality internship can be a part of that potential journey, and rather than looking at internships as a last option, perhaps people can take advantage of the immediate opportunities that some short term internships can offer. That said, we are still not 100% sure that that quality always exists, so we chatted with Ben Rosen of recruitment intern service, Inspiring Interns, to address this issue and find out more about the business full stop.
Tell TheEmployable about Inspiring Interns – how did you get into offering an intern placement service, and what was your background before this?
Previously I ran a fulltime senior recruitment company where I placed people within the digital sector. Having hosted several European students through the Erasmus scheme I saw the challenge facing graduates when making the transition from education to work and I wanted to set-up a service that would help them get their first break into employment.
There seems to be a lot of negative publicity at the moment in being associated with internships and the ‘no wage’ situation young grads can often find themselves in, how would you respond to that criticism?
Unfortunately there are some unscrupulous companies out there that abuse the internship system, and these isolated cases have skewed the debate somewhat around Internship. We believe that the two key aspects to an internship should be quality and access, not simply wage/no wage. Which is better, a twelve month ‘internship’ that pays National Minimum Wage where the intern becomes the office dogsbody, or a three month expenses-only internship where the intern learns a huge amount and which leads to a permanent position on a graduate salary (e.g. £25,000/year)?
Do you think University and non-vocational degrees set grads up for the challenge of full time employment in terms of skills and experience?
We’re finding that for many employers the answer is no. While graduates undoubtedly have lots of transferable skills they could potentially offer a company, not enough have experience of applying them in a professional setting. In such a saturated job market, students and graduates must be able to demonstrate that they are able to use the skills learnt from their degree in a work context. That is why many university leavers are finding their most viable path to meaningful employment is through internships.
65% of your internships result in paid employment at the end of the placement, which is a very good statistic. What advice would you give the 35% that don’t find employment first off?
Well in the majority of cases the remaining 35% don’t stay on where they have interned because they have found employment elsewhere having gained additional experience through their placement. However for the small number who are ultimately unsuccessful in their search for paid employment my first piece of advice
would be to remain positive. The thing we hear from employers time and time again is that they look for the right attitude in potential employees – so it is imperative that candidates demonstrate a positive mentality in everything from their cover letter to interview stage. It is also important that you get some structured feedback at the end of your internship – find out what were your strengths and weaknesses, and ask your manager how you can improve. I would also suggest taking some time to review everything you experienced during your internship (keeping a diary during a placement is a great way to keep track of what you have done) and using this as ammunition for future applications.
If you could change one government ’employment’ policy what would it be?
Rather than change a policy I would create one, as the Government does not have any specific employment policy with regards to graduates. I would create provision to support graduates during an internship by extending the Work Experience Programme to three month placements (currently it only covers eight weeks of work experience) and by actively encouraging start-ups and small businesses to take part in the scheme. Courting large employers such as Tesco and Asda is all very well for publicity purposes but on a practical level graduates will often learn more from a stint in an SME as they can see more areas of the company and get a more hands-on experience.
And what is next for Inspiring Interns, any exciting developments you can share?
Having moved into new offices at the end of 2011 we are hoping to continue growing and helping even more graduates kick-start their careers! And you might want to keep your eyes peeled for our brand spanking new website which is coming soon…
We thank Ben for his time and wish Inspiring Interns all the best for the rest of 2012 and beyond.
We have plenty of other TheEmployable interviews so why not check out the list..
Why not Sign up for our free newsletter for more top tips, articles and interviews…