The value of experience and internships

With youth unemployment soaring, the cost of attending university set to rocket and employers’ recruitment budgets hit by the recession, young people could be forgiven for thinking that getting a decent job will be impossible in the coming years.

Even those with degrees will find applying for jobs far more difficult if they have no previous work experience, with two-thirds of employers recently surveyed by research firm High Fliers warning that candidates with no experience are “unlikely to be successful” during the selection process and “have little or no chance” of being offered a position on their graduate programmes.

However, it is heartening to hear that some employers are making efforts that will make the situation more manageable for these candidates. To ensure that they are not missing out on talented people who may be lacking experience or do not have the resources to go to university, employers are increasingly turning to innovative work-placement schemes.

Resources for employers

1. Ensure that you have a budget set aside to articulate your marketing to this specific audience.
2. Work out which schools you will go to – local schools are best as school leavers tend not to move as far from home as graduates.
3. Build relationships with the school careers liaison people.
4. Allow time for your staff to go to school events.
5. Review your assessment criteria.
Source: Grant Thornton

Earlier this year, professional services firm KPMG announced the launch of a new initiative that will give school leavers the chance to study accountancy at university with KPMG paying their tuition fees.

In September 2011, around 75 students will be given the chance to start a six-year programme with the firm, during which they will gain both a degree and a professional chartered accountancy qualification funded by the company. The scheme aims to increase diversity in the profession by targeting those who might be unable to pursue a graduate path into the career due to the cost of tuition fees.

Advertising agency BMB has taken a different approach, renaming its young talent-hunting scheme the “Non Grad, Grad Recruitment Programme” and, for the first time, inviting candidates who do not have a degree but who feel that they can “demonstrate their suitability for the job via other means”.

“This is a timely response to the Government’s proposed university tuition fee hikes, which may mean the talent of the future won’t necessarily choose or be able to afford to take degrees,” the agency said. “Our belief is that talented people who don’t have sufficient funds and resources behind them will undoubtedly be precluded from the university education system.”

These schemes highlight the need for employers to think and act in broader and more innovative terms, according to Iain McLaughlin, head of recruitment at KPMG.

“The need for talent continues to grow, while at the same time the ability to find, attract and retain talent remains hugely competitive,” he says. “Consequently, recruiters need to open more potential channels of talent, or put simply, more methods of talent finding a route into organisations.”

For Maria Floud, senior graduate recruitment manager at accountancy firm Grant Thornton, the increase in university fees is making employers reflect on their schemes and question whether traditional graduate programmes will result in them getting enough good people.

“I think we will start to see more alternative ways into firms than the traditional graduate programme,” she says. “The internship model used as a key pipeline to the graduate programme is very successful. We recently won the ‘Best Placement and Internship’ award by Rate My Placement, due to the focus we put on ensuring this programme to find great talent earlier on.”

Building a successful school-leaver recruitment programme takes time, particularly as there are thousands of schools out there, compared with just around 120 universities, warns Floud. “A few years ago, we started to build local school alumni teams and we are seeing good results in this,” she says. “It takes a lot of effort and relationship building, so it’s not a quick win.”

For employers considering their own placement or internship schemes, clarity and structure around the proposed offering, combined with offering a real sense of belonging and value to participants, are critical, according to McLaughlin.

“For any potential employee to look at an internship or early entry scheme with genuine positivity, they need to be able to see precisely what is on offer, over what time frames and with what outputs as an end goal,” he says.

Floud agrees that communication is vital and urges employers to highlight that there are opportunities out there for people who do not want to go on to university.

“For example, one of our trainees joining our school-leaver programme a couple of years ago had a place lined up at Oxford University but decided to join our programme instead,” she says. “He could not believe that it was not necessary to go to university and still become a qualified accountant within four years through a structured training scheme. It meant that compared with his peers, he was qualified while they were finishing their first year after graduating.”

Are there any legal pitfalls to watch out for when employing interns?

  • Someone coming in on a work placement or internship is in the same position as a new employee. This is particularly the case where the individual is working under some sort of written contract or agreement and is being paid. As such, one should work on the basis that all the legal pitfalls of employing people apply here too.
  • As with any working arrangement, it is a good idea to be clear about expectations: how should the individual conduct themselves? Which rules and policies apply to them? Who will supervise them? What work will they be doing?
  • Employers should bear in mind that many of these candidates will have had very little or no exposure to a work environment and may not be familiar with office etiquette, health and safety issues and so on.
  • Employers should set aside plenty of time at the beginning for an induction period to make clear their expectations, set the rules and explain the consequences of not meeting either of these. A bit of investment at the outset can pay large dividends for both parties later on.

Source: Alex Lock, partner, employment and pensions group, Beachcroft.

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