Britain is on the brink of an internship revolution. What was once a purely American phenomenon has seeped to this side of the pond and is spreading throughout the British work sector. No longer is an office complete without an intern, and no longer is a graduate’s CV absolute without having interned.
The age of the internship, it seems, is upon us.
And it couldn’t have come a moment sooner. As the depths of the global recession continue to plight the business division and hold back employment opportunities - especially for the hundreds of thousands of eager graduates flocking out of the university nest each year - internships are bridging a gap in an imperfect and oversubscribed system.
Seventy applicants are reported to now chase every job vacancy, and graduate unemployment is at its highest number in seventeen years. Where previously a university degree might have secured a position, a candidate’s academic record is no longer a priority. Employers now need more for their tightened budgets; they need experience and they need a certain level of competence – something many complain they struggle to find even amongst the masses of applicants they receive.
This is where an internship is coming into its own. It is filling the training gap universities are omitting, whilst developing a far higher calibre of applicants for companies who can’t afford to get it wrong.
Of course, as with any revolution, the internship practice has its critics. Caricatures depict unpaid interns making coffees, sorting the post or collecting the boss’s laundry; whilst the unions shout exploitation charges when the intern is given relevant work over the remedial tasks of the work experience kid.
The age of the internship, it seems, is still developing.
A middle ground must always be maintained. The intern needs to gain educationally from their experience and be in a stronger employment position by the end; and the staff time and company efforts dedicated towards training the intern need to be justified by the work the intern puts in.
Madsen Pirie, President of the Adam Smith Institute has hired a number of interns and thinks those who believe its exploitative is missing the point. In an article for Coffee House, he argued that internships had become widespread because nearly everyone benefits from them:
“For employers, work experience is a useful way to assess a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, and to make a full-time hiring less risky,” he said.
“And it works the other way…People are better prepared for work than they were, and they go into jobs more aware of what work entails.”
With almost a third of graduates currently out of work, many are opting to remain productive by taking on internships rather than staying at home, and importantly, usually have no regrets about their decision.
In a recent survey conducted by Inspiring Interns, 100% of those who took part said they had found their internship experience useful. When asked why, they all agreed they had learnt a lot of new industry skills from the experience, and explained that the internship had either led to a permanent role within the company they had interned with, or, they believed, had been responsible for their achievement of another.
Similarly, in a recent national survey, 69% of employers said they were more likely to hire someone who had spent time in their organisation, whilst for 43% any work experience completed was an asset.
Andrew Leacy, the Head of Careers for BPP Business School, agrees with these findings.
“Having worked with students in Higher Education for over ten years I am very aware of the enormous value of work experience,” he said. “Whilst students tend to put the greatest effort into achieving good results in their exams I know that employers value "real world" experience almost as much as , if not more than strong academics.”
Internships are also providing a way for both sides to ‘test the water’. With many graduates coming away from university unsure what profession they want to pursue, an internship allows a comprehensive insight into their options, whilst equally allowing an employer time to make sure they are investing in the right candidate.
With economical factors restructuring the office environment and recruitment process all over the UK, internships are occupying spaces which would otherwise be filled with unemployed desperation, or for a struggling company, just left vacant.
As an intern recruitment company, Inspiring Interns strives to find meaningful internships in ambitious companies, and continues to support a revolution which is proving to have a strong, mutually beneficial impact, creating a win / win situation for all.
The age of the internship, it seems, is only going to strengthen.