Go to any British university these days and it won't be long before you hear bright eyed young students bring up the subject of internships. A word, which barely a generation ago meant very little for the average student in Britain, has become an established part of the 21st century British university experience.
Among today's generation of students, internships are viewed as an essential experience for those hoping to land their ideal graduate job in finance, law, or other competitive graduate sectors. Last year the CBI found that 82% of businesses see experience and skills gained during internships as the single most important consideration when recruiting graduates, and a recent survey, The Graduate Market in 2012, discovered that half of all firms said it was unlikely they would employ graduates without any work experience. It is therefore not surprising, given employers enthusiasm for work experience and today's fierce competition for graduate jobs, that increasing numbers of students are eager to gain relevant work experience while at university.
Provided internships are accessible to all, this is no bad thing. Work placements provide students with a taste of what working in their chosen industry will mean in reality, enhance the skills that they will need for future employment, and allow employers to gauge the suitability of candidates at an early stage.
Now, summer internships are going global. Driven overseas by the desire to stand out from the crowd, intense competition for internships in the UK, and a wish to combine work experience with travel, a growing number of students are jetting off to complete their summer internships abroad.
In 2009 CRCC Asia, the company which I helped set up to connect British business with China, established our China Internship Program facilitating the opportunity for British students and graduates to go to China to take up work placements in Chinese or international companies. We aimed to improve the employability of the interns whilst at the same time developing their awareness of the Chinese business culture and Chinese market, knowledge which will be increasingly important for British business in the 21st century.
Four years on and the demand for the program has been enormous: last year around 1,000 students and graduates from around the globe participated in the program, and right now hundreds of British students are getting ready to head out to Beijing and Shanghai to begin summer work placements.
"Having initially tried and failed to secure an internship in the UK, I decided to apply to CRCC Asia for an internship in Beijing", explains Neal Fantom, a student at the University of Edinburgh who participated in the China Internship Program last summer interning with Climate Change Capital, an investment firm specializing in the energy sector. "It may well be one of the best decisions I will ever make in my entire career. The working and social experience far surpassed anything I could have hoped to have gained back in the UK."
With Chinese companies prizing Western education, making the tea is the last thing the students will do; interns are given a greater level of responsibility than they could hope to have interning within the UK. "You are definitely thrown in at the deep end," exclaimed Marketing and Advertising student Hannah Clark who interned in the Beijing office of an international communications agency, "but that makes for a great experience and you learn a lot."
Our alumni report that their work placement in China is what interests employers most during job interviews, above their degree and any UK based experience. Graduate Employers recognize the benefit of experience and knowledge of a country which is now the second largest global economy and whose trade with Britain grew by 17% during last year alone.
The UK has some of the best universities in the world, yet it is clear that from an employer's perspective academic qualifications are just one of several aspects they consider in new recruits. As young Brits seek to distinguish themselves as quality graduates in a globalised world where increasingly wealth creation is in the emerging economies, internships - particularly those overseas - are set to become ever more popular.
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