Internships are almost as hot a topic as TOWIE or Prince Harry right now, they're on the agenda with the press, universities, students, parents, employers, you name it.
What I really want to talk about is how both students and employers can gain from an internship or work experience placement. Over the last twelve months I've been working with creative employers as they recruit graduates and students. These have included PR companies, advertising firms, publishers, arts organisations, and many others in between. I work at a university where we source and promote these opportunities to our arts and humanities students, so I get the rewarding and challenging job of seeing the process from both sides. The most common thing I hear from employers is that they don't have enough student applications of the right calibre, and the most common thing I hear from students is that these opportunities either do not exist, or that they can't get them. With my colleagues we're trying to solve both of these issues.*
Before I come on to employers I want to talk about how students can go about getting into the creative industries. If you're an arts and humanities student then you've probably got somewhere between six and twenty hours of contact time per week, plus essays and revision. However, we all know that more often than not essays and revision come in the final two weeks of term. Use your time better, be proactive, there will usually be an abundance of student recruiters on campus during the autumn term hosting events for you...often with freebies! This is the perfect time to meet someone who actually works for an organisation you may like to work for in two or three years time, and believe me, they remember and write down names of students that impress them. If it's the same old faces on campus (you know the ones), and you'd rather work for a small arts organisation or a PR firm with no defined graduate scheme, then tell your careers service or tell your lecturers, they're the ones that can make some inroads to get folk from smaller (but more interesting?) recruiters on to campus to meet you. Don't stop there though, use Google: Google is your friend for the majority of your essay writing and seminar prep right? Well look up some companies or some jobs you may be keen on, then speak to a careers adviser, tell them what you're interested in and start making connections. You hear these stories about "oh you can only get an internship if you're dad knows someone"... in my opinion that's becoming less and less true. From an employer's perspective it makes no sense, why would you run the risk of taking on someone who may be there because their dad told them to when you could have someone who's taken the time to send you a covering letter about why they WANT the internship? Granted, some sectors are still difficult to get into, but we're trying to break down those barriers, especially as most of them are interlinked with the fair pay issue.
One final point for students looking to intern in the creative industries is that a lot of organisations use these as a way to spot people who would be valuable future members of their teams. Use an internship to create the right impression, and don't forget to check in with your manager/supervisor/mentor every now and then when you get back to uni and ask if they may need a hand with stuff next summer or maybe they've got a permanent position coming up in about July/August of your final year....?
What about the employer's point of view? Well, the majority of employers I talk to are crying out for talented employees and interns. Yes they may not have as much money as they used to, yes government funding has reduced for some, but to have a bright and committed student come and intern with you for two weeks to three months and provide your business with fresh impetus and an understanding of what makes their peers tick is pretty valuable. If your company is aiming to survive and grow then you can usually find a little bit of cash to pay someone for the work they do for you. If you don't have the work or a project that needs doing then it's simple, don't take someone on. However, I've still not met an organisation that's said "oh no, there's nothing else we'd like to be doing right now". In the event you can't find the money, speak to a university about funding pots you may be able to access to pay for the intern. A lot of universities are investing heavily in their careers provision thanks to the advent of the KIS, and if they're not investing in that you can bet they're probably investing in their external partnerships/business engagement due to reduced government funding.
Would love to hear prospective and current interns' views, and those of employers looking to take people on...
* Three quick points: when I talk about internships I'm talking about paid jobs, anything calling itself an internship that is unpaid is usually illegal (check the small print on these ads...if you're asked to do work, have set hours etc then you should be paid, unless you work for a charity); for my purposes arts and humanities refers to: English, history, languages, philosophy etc, it does not include visual arts; and finally I'm talking from the lucky position of working for a Russell Group university with very capable students.