Joy Lewis: Internships can offer long-term hope for jobless youth

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THE current generation of business managers were fortunate to find doors opening for them, allowing them to get a first step on the career ladder.

In many cases it was about making the most of who they knew; tapping into a network of friends and contacts to get the help they needed. For this fortunate generation, job opportunities appeared plentiful.

But for the existing generation of bright new talent, the rules have changed. They can certainly no longer rely on who they know.

In today’s harsh economic environment graduates face the impossible challenge of finding suitable work experience to help open doors to long-term employment but also to earn an income to pay any debts.

Creating an accessible internship culture in Scotland is crucial to solving this problem facing our brightest and best graduates and all businesses have a responsibility to provide this much needed work experience.

More than a million 16-24 year olds are unemployed, including 100,000 in Scotland. We are undoubtedly facing a generation who are lost to employment and the same life opportunities which their parents probably had readily available.

There has been much political and business debate about creating apprenticeships and making it easier for business to fund training investment. This is certainly one positive avenue to be encouraged.

Another realistic solution, little seen in Scotland outside professional services but very common in the US and Europe, is paid internship opportunities for new graduates.

Internships offer new graduate experience in the workplace for a short-term period, normally three to six months, where they can become familiar with a business environment, develop the workplace skills that employers need and be exposed to working in teams and interacting with colleagues and clients.

The employer benefits from the addition of bright, enthusiastic and energetic new talent to their business. The Centre for Scottish Public Policy (CSPP) piloted an intern initiative early last year and we have been delighted with the scale of the response.

Both employers and graduates can see the benefits and the “Adopt an Intern” programme has grown dramatically to deliver nationwide over 100 much needed internship opportunities for Scotland’s graduates.

We receive funding from the Scottish Government and this will allow us to develop this innovative initiative even further in the year ahead. Many employers fund their own intern, which allows the Government support to be spread even further.

The team at the CSPP are in close contact with university career teams and shortlist applicants, saving businesses precious time and money.

Crucially, all of our internships are paid and over half of the interns go on to achieve full-time employment as a direct result of their internship experience, many staying with the same organisation.

In addition, many of the participating companies return to offer further internships, or employ more than one graduate because they have had such a positive experience.

If every entrepreneur, start up, SME and corporate across Scotland was willing to explore the opportunity to employ an intern, then – overnight – the social and economic issue of graduate unemployment would be pretty much resolved.

Managers, business owners, decision makers and investors have a social responsibility to create and embrace an internship culture in Scotland to open their dooes to business and provide the next generation of business managers with the opportunity to demonstrate their potential.

Most graduates are self-starters bursting with ideas. They are enthusiastic and keen to make their mark.

The importance of paid, well-structured and accessible internships cannot be understated if we are going to achieve social mobility, economic recovery and avoid a lost generation of Scotland’s graduates.

Why doesn’t your business adopt an intern today?

• Joy Lewis is programme manager at think tank CSSP