Interns, enterns and the ripple effect

Hamsterwheel One side-effect of the recession / rising unemployment might potentially be a rise in the number of graduates seeking work experience, as fewer will be going straight into work. Whether this begins to correspond to a rise in internships at different organisations will be interesting to see. Interns have been on my mind of late, since Jamie Veitch's excellent blog post over at New Start: "Interns: make tea for free, get a job (maybe)". The crux of his argument is as follows:

"It always struck me as ironic that an organisation devoted to social inclusion should perpetuate a system
whereby only those with the means to work for free could gain the
experience they needed to get a proper job in the sector."

I would pretty much agree with this. From an organisational point of view, though, as I commented on the post, the flipside is that if you hold rigorously to this value set (around social inclusion) you can actually lose
out on fresh thinking, additional capacity etc etc. in comparison with other agencies in the field.For an organisation like SSE, with a core staff team of around 10, one person can make a substantial impact. The person who's set up the interesting Enternships site (Rajeeb Dey) clearly agrees.

We've dipped our toe in the water, as regular readers of the blog will know, with an intern-ing relationship with a college in Minnesota, St Olaf….particularly with their Center for Experiential Learning, because it shared a focus on action learning, entrepreneurship and social innovation. For the last two Januarys, we've had an intern from St Olaf (Thor and then Hannah), and I think it's been a mutually beneficial experience in terms of learning, contribution to SSE, and development (on both sides). Both utilised the university's travel fund to make it happen.

As the person managing them internally, it's been great to maintain the relationship afterwards and to continue conversations about where they are heading job and career-wise. Both have influenced the development of things back at St Olaf, and also kept in contact throughout. Thor is coming back to work for us this summer for 3 months (and we're paying him this time…), whilst Hannah is applying to work with a large US non-profit financial institution, Thrivent Financial. Both of which I'm delighted about, and happy to support with references or advice or whatever.

Are we helping perpetuate disadvantage by taking internships in this way? I don't think we are in this case, and there is also the broader point that, as Matt Stevenson-Dodd has written recently, this movement also needs to attract the high educational achievers. But we similarly can't be complacent about using processes that reinforce advantage and inequality. Perhaps there is room for a supported internship scheme, or sponsored internship bursaries, in this sector to ensure that doesn't happen.

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