It's common knowledge that the current jobs market is competitive to say the least, with youth unemployment on the rise. The controversy surrounding unpaid internships then is illustrative of the dilemma many graduates face, stuck between a rock and a hard place where the need to earn money is in conflict with the need to gain experience in their field of interest.
That's not to say you should dismiss an unpaid internship. Many 'unpaid' internships still offer money towards travel expenses. Many roles can be taken on part time also, which means evenings, days off and weekends can be used for part-time paid employment. Yes, this means long working days and potential seven day weeks for many interns, but for anyone committed to gaining experience in a role it's worthwhile - it's not forever either.
It's important to note the value of an internship by differentiating it to work experience. Work experience is a short-term introduction to a role that will often involve shadowing and small tasks. An internship, more often for three to six months, provides actual training and insight into a role that goes beyond observation. By gaining a solid amount of experience in a role, you are making yourself more employable, and developing your skill set from student life in a professional environment. Undertaking an internship for six months should ideally give you the experience to go on and apply for entry level roles in your chosen sector.
For the intern, an internship is a valuable way to test out a potential career before taking the plunge. After three months in a role you'll have gained a deeper understanding of what is involved and there might be the chance that you don't like it. Working is a large part of our lives so it's important to be happy in a job role. Trying out a role for a limited time period takes the pressure off and can help you in deciding what career to pursue.
Taking part in an internship in a company or organisation you admire is a good way to put yourself on their radar. Internships can be viewed as an extended job interview almost, with many leading to opportunities for paid employment. As an intern within the company or organisation you'll likely to become aware of job openings before they're advertised and better equipped with specific experience than the general outsider.
Maria Sowter is a previous intern and current Online Content Editor at Frontier, a non-profit volunteering NGO that runs 320 conservation, community, and adventure projects in 57 countries across the globe. She can be found blogging on Frontier's Gap Year Blog or posting on the Frontier Official Facebook page. Frontier offers a range of internships in both their UK and US office.