Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Internships and the future of jobs

Last week’s Economist’s special report on ‘The Future of Jobs outlined the some realities about the changing world of work, unemployment and the skills required to survive within it. One of the pieces sub-titled ‘Employers are getting free workers, interns are getting a free education’, written in response to concerns about graduates working for next to nothing, raises questions about the value of internships.

With global unemployment at an all time high 7.9 percent in the UK and over 9 percent in the US, internships are a must for most graduates.  On top of this the price of a university degree is set to become more expensive, forcing many students to reconsider the university route into work. Choosing to becoming a serial intern would be one way of avoiding those huge fees and securing a job. In light of these facts, are graduate interns really working for next to nothing?

Based on experience I would say on the face of it quite often they are when you factor in the cost of living in London and if you don’t have parents with deep pockets and connections to support you through the internship the pay most interns receive is not enough to survive on.

However what is often over-looked by those who say graduates are working for next to nothing is that, “they are getting a free education, something a few universities provide these days” as the writer of the piece argues. A workplace education gained through an internship give students the chance to gain knowledge of the world of work and develop a broad range of skills which they might not have gained during their time in academia. This is not to say an academic education has no value.

Having interned within organisations such as the Demos, BBC and more recently Pearson what I have discovered, is that internships can serve as important building blocks, helping to cultivate the soft and practical workplace skills employers need graduates to have. The Pearson internship gave me the opportunity to experience different parts of the business whilst learning on the job.

The Benjamin Franklyn maxim “Tell me and I forget show me and I remember, involve me and I understand” should be applied to Internships. By involving students in the culture of the workplace helps develop a better understanding of the skills they need for future of jobs.

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