AAI CEO Joy Lewis on IPPR's Inbetweeners - Now for the positive spin

This week the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) issued a paper entitled, ‘The inbetweeners: The new role of internships in the graduate labour market’, critiquing the culture of internships in the UK, and downplaying the tangible routes to quality, graduate-level employment that such opportunities offer.

Firstly, I’m thrilled that this paper has raised the topic of internships, although as the CEO of AAI (Adopt an Intern), a company which has facilitated over 1340 paid internships since 2010, there are certain concerns raised that I feel I have a responsibility to wade in on.

AAI actually began inside a non-aligned Think Tank (the Centre for Scottish Public Policy, CSPP), so many of our supporters and stakeholders are policy wonks themselves, monitoring our success and applauding the ethical basis of our work - putting paid to unpaid internships and allowing graduates, from all backgrounds, to access paid internships which we advertise on behalf of business of all sizes (public, private and third sectors).

After 7 years now and some amazing statistics, the message I want to convey is that PAID INTERNSHIPS WORK. We have dealt with over 800 employers and ALL of them respect the talents of graduates and the skills and ideas they bring to the table. Very few organisations in Scotland will offer unpaid internships (and get away with it!).

The topics of graduate recruitment and quality internships are close to my heart, and although the concerns raised certainly help keep the conversation alive, there are some points detailed that are contrary to our experience in Scotland.

This is an extensive, 45-page paper, so in the interest of discussing the key themes we have picked out some quotes:

“Internships should no longer remain unregulated, of variable quality and restricted to a privileged few. Providing equal opportunities for young people of different backgrounds to enter the professions is important both from a moral perspective and to ensure that businesses have access to the widest pool of talent.”

Proper paid, meaningful internships should be accompanied by a short-term contract. Problem solved. The proof is in our pudding: 35% of our applicants are the first in their family to go to University (i.e., those less likely to have connections in the right places).

“Characteristics including socioeconomic background, schooling and ethnicity are still strongly related to the jobs prospects of young people, with those who went to private school earning more even compared to other graduates in professional jobs.”  

It gets our goat too. That's why we shortlist candidates for employers based on attitude, skills and personality, not ethnicity, age, gender or social background. Indeed, many employers approach us due to our excellent track record regarding diversity, as they know our reach is wide and unfiltered.

“For internships to be a driver of social mobility rather than a barrier to it, universities, employers and the government should act together to increase the overall availability of internships and minimise any barriers to takeup for those who are disadvantaged.”

Hopefully, someone will speak to AAI too. We have identified potential barriers to employers instigating internships (time and cost, you won't be surprised). We have identified barriers facing graduates too and are working on each of them which is why, for example, we attract disabled graduates and a large number of female applicants.

We have a tried and tested mechanism in place to overcome all barriers and are open to discussion with anyone that wants to know how we achieve this.

“Internships offered by top graduate recruiters have consistently risen each year since 2010 (by as much as 50 percent in total). Nearly half of these employers report that candidates who have not gained work experience through an internship will ‘have little or no chance of receiving a job offer’ for their organisations’ graduate programmes, regardless of academic qualifications.”

For over a decade we've discussed this Catch 22 situation. No experience, no job - no job, no experience. Graduates know this, so internships have become a way of trying before you buy. Great! Where's the issue? Let's just get more paid internships up and running.

“Now that the economy is recovering we would expect to see internships receding and entry level jobs taking their place. It appears, however, that internships have become a permanent feature of the graduate labour market, and are now a ‘must have’ for the typical graduate career.” 

Alternatively, it can be argued that the format of short-term paid internships has risen in popularity and, if facilitated correctly, offer employers and graduates favourable routes to employment. We should be affirming that good, real, paid internships are brilliant! 74% of our graduate interns go into permanent employment almost immediately after their internship. It works!

The more internship experience, the better, in my view. In Germany, for example, it's not uncommon to do a handful of internships before even looking for permanent work - it's about being the best you can for the employer of your choice.

Our paid internships give graduates the opportunity to prove themselves and highlight their skills. For employers, it gives them a chance to ensure a candidate is the right fit for the team. It often leads to the employer creating a role for the graduate based on the skills displayed during the internship, offering more flexibility for hiring.

In conclusion.

Although this research paper by Carys Roberts addresses genuine issues in graduate recruitment, had she contacted us we’d have confirmed that it’s not all doom and gloom, with interns making tea for a pittance and bankers’ children taking all the good opportunities.

It’s not that black and white.

What is really needed is more quality companies coming to ethical graduate recruitment companies, that know how to bring both parties together, to exceed expectations on both sides.


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