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Internships: Real world skills?


The last recession, in the 1990s, saw swathes of graduates over-qualified and under-experienced for the limited vacancies available. This time, with far more graduates about to hit the recruitment market, Gemma Middleton assesses how the class of 2009 can get the real-life skills that will make them more employable in the current jobs market.

Graduates. Employment. Training. Recruitment. Learning & Development.

All of the above words are very important in society and like many social aspects today, the current economic situation is definitely making its presence known in all of these areas; a lot like that little bit of extra Christmas weight that many of us are carrying – we know its there but would be much happier if it wasn’t!

Photo of Gemma Middleton"The job opportunities available now are far fewer than those available to graduates a mere couple of years ago. In fact, ‘signing on’ is likely to be the harsh reality for some graduates."

The Labour Party wants 50% of school leavers to be in university and currently this figure stands at 40%. Whilst many would welcome this good news, it appears that not all is so sweet smelling in the graduate world.

With around 300,000 students set to graduate from university in the summer, the already pressurised employment market looks set to worsen because of this influx of job seekers.

Many graduates who completed their studies in the summer of 2008 have struggled to find job vacancies in their areas of interest and qualifications. This has resulted in many sticking with the low paid and low-skilled jobs that they used to support themselves during their studies. As the class of 2008, discovered the job opportunities available now are far fewer than those available to graduates a mere couple of years ago. In fact, ‘signing on’ is likely to be the harsh reality for some graduates.

It is because of this very reason why The Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary, John Denham, told The Telegraph earlier this month, about plans to implement an Internship for Graduates. To date, the scheme is being backed by large corporations such as Barclays, PwC and Microsoft. The blueprint of the scheme consists of offering graduates placements for up to three months with pay based on a slightly higher rate compared to the income students get from loans and grants ie £2,835.

In the interview with the Telegraph, Mr. Denham said, “These are the children of the baby-boomers. They will be a very big group. What do we do with them? We can't just leave people to fend for themselves.”

This sense of responsibility and focus on positive, long-term action I applaud. Having been through the graduation process myself, in 2006, finding the right graduate position when the economy was booming was tough. I dread to think about some of the worry these fresh graduates are facing considering the general downturn in employment levels, as well as the possibility of large organisations freezing graduate recruitment.

In principle, I believe the Graduate Internship scheme is something that could make a real difference for the graduates of 2009. Gaining experience and being given the opportunity to transfer academic learning into the workplace is like gold dust and would help graduates enormously when looking for recruitment opportunities in the future.

My only reservation is how large the scheme will need to be to make a real difference. Let's face it, 300,000 is a lot of graduates, and so the Graduate Internships scheme can't realistically be the sole solution to this current problem.

Thankfully, not all organisations are stopping graduate recruitment and development, as the Marriott Hotel chain proved at the beginning of this month, even though large rivals like the Hilton chain are holding still. More organisations need to follow this example, after all finding the right graduate now can be less costly than standing still.

As with all Government initiatives, the success – or not - of the Graduate Internship will only be revealed over time. I for one will have my fingers crossed that it will make as much of a positive and worthwhile contribution as the plans suggest!

Gemma Middleton is a marketing coordinator at Righttrack Consultancy


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