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Wurst in Europe? How the UK Can Learn From German Internships

Posted: 06/02/2013 15:08

It was with little surprise that I saw calls this week for the UK to be more like Germany when dealing with youth unemployment. The Work Foundation's report 'International Lessons: Youth Unemployment in the Global Context' highlights a number of measures in place in Germany (among other countries) which, in complete contrast to Britain, have driven a decline in youth unemployment against the backdrop of the recession. Built on a foundation which prioritises providing work experience to bridge the gap between education and employment, these measures have been so successful that Germany has experienced a consistent drop in youth unemployment since 2005. A record Britain can only dream of with its current gloomy landscape for young people seeking employment.

I know from first-hand experience how much more advanced Germany's education to employment systems are than ours having spent a year abroad in Munich as part of my degree. Along with perfecting my language skills and sampling the local produce (there are six major breweries in the city to work through), I quickly learnt that gaining practical experience alongside one's studies is not the reserve of eager beavers (or Bereifrigen), it is a prerequisite for all students serious about getting a job after graduation. The effects of this on the employability of young people, and employers' understanding of what graduates can offer them, are stark. A slightly biased teutophile I may be, but the facts speak for themselves. UK youth unemployment: 20%. Germany: 8.5% (and shrinking).

The German approach places a clear value on investing and training young prospective employees and has seen the country develop a nation- and business-wide commitment to helping young adults transition between the role of student and professional. Their system creates a reciprocal relationship between the prospective employee and employer with each party's interests intertwined. It is a system that has a proven track record, and is one that we in Britain should be looking to better emulate to tackle our growing youth unemployment problem.

It is an ethos that underpins the work we do at Inspiring Interns. We believe that proper, supported work experience and internships serve to benefit both employee and employer, giving graduates a chance to gain insight into their industry of choice, and allowing businesses to reap the benefits of investing in their future employees whilst better differentiating between the hundreds of applicants for every job.

Sadly, the internship model is not nearly well established enough in this country and many graduates are forced to pin their hopes on blanket applications to the oversubscribed graduate schemes at major corporations. We at Inspiring Interns are working to shake up Britain's tired approach to youth employment, placing a new value on work experience and highlighting the returns experienced by both young people and their employers when they are properly invested in with training and support.

We think, as with Germany, our track record speaks for ourselves. In the four years since Inspiring Interns was founded, we have placed over 2000 graduates into internships. With 66% of these going to secure full time jobs at their placement company, we can proudly state that we have secured a graduate job a day since our formation. Moreover, these are not the graduate jobs where "who you know" will land you the position, or not having a 2.1 from a top university will exclude you - these are jobs that go to ambitious, motivated jobseekers who are able to demonstrate, beyond a degree classification, that they are the right fit for a company. That is a key facet of proper internships and one that is also not recognised sufficiently in the UK.

The reality is we continue to have a major youth unemployment problem in this country with an ever-more crowded graduate job market. With almost a million young people in the UK unemployed, perhaps it is time we started looking to our neighbours for tangible solutions to getting graduates into work, and recognising the value of proper work experience.

 

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