The National Internship Scheme

PR stunt or a graduate's knight in shining armour? The pros and cons of the national internship scheme.

Some of you may have read about the Government's plans for a National Internship Scheme for graduates that the Universities and Skills Secretary, John Denham, announced over the weekend... what do you think about it? As an overview, the scheme is a bid to alleviate the jobs shortages in the graduate market that has been caused by the downturn in economy over the past year. I was intrigued by it to say the least...

The idea is for a government backed scheme to help employers take on graduates this summer for a 3 month period, with the aim of giving them a foot in the door at a graduate job and arming them with some of the experience they will need to secure a full time job afterwards. Although the scheme was reported widely in the press (it made front page of the Telegraph and was the most read article on the BBC on Saturday, whilst the Sunday Times dedicated a whole page to it) the details still seem somewhat unclear.

According to the articles we read, the government has managed to get the backing of two large firms, Microsoft and Barclays (prominent recruiters of interns) who have come forward and supported the scheme, and are actively looking to seek further partner companies. A graduate intern will reportedly earn slightly more than the pro rata rate of their student grant for the three month scheme.

As one of the founders of the student placement and internship website RateMyPlacement, we are fully behind any announcement that promotes work experience. The fact that this announcement has come from the Government and has received so much national press attention has been great for raising the awareness of work experience to students - something we have been trying to do since we launched in October 2007!

The theory behind the scheme is great and we plan to be involved in its development going forward, however despite all the press attention this story has received, I can't help but believe the lack of detail behind the scheme has meant that John Denham's announcement has thrown up more questions than answers. Is it just a knee jerk reaction that has been ill thought out? Or, is it a well timed announcement to draw attention to the future hardships faced by graduates and inspire a generation of students that the future, with the aid of the Government, is indeed rosy. How far reaching is this scheme? Will it affect a large percentage of the 400,000 graduates leaving university in the summer or will it serve only a few hundred of the most able anyway?

The plans have brought a few issues to mind though:

  • Are the companies taking part going to offer a significant number of internship vacancies to graduates that were genuinely not available before the scheme was announced? The worst thing that the companies could do is fill a scheme designed for undergraduates with the graduate interns, just to fill a quota. This would be extremely short termist and only serve to rob you, the future generation of students, of valuable work experience opportunities.
  • Are there enough vacancies on the scheme to meet the demand from students for the roles? If there are only a small number of vacancies on the scheme it will simply mean that the lucky few who are selected will learn employability skills and gain experience, as the Government intended. However, this will raise the bar, and leave a vast majority who are comparatively under skilled and even less likely to secure a graduate job.
  • Is the "crisis" as bad as is made out? We have heard from a number of sources including the Association of Graduate Recruiters that, with the exception of the banking and retail industries, the vast majority of companies are recruiting graduates as normal. After all, graduates are the future of any forward thinking company, and if it is the bottom line of profits that are talking, then a graduate is probably half the cost of a middle manager.
  • Is this too little too late? We would argue that after graduation, it is arguably too late to for a student to obtain work experience. Companies are offering meaningful work experience to Gap Year students, Insight Weeks for 1st years, plus of course, summer internships and work placements for penultimate year students. We believe the government, if looking to truly make this scheme effective, should be looking to promote and expand the options for students earlier in their studies. In Germany 80% of students go through some form of meaningful work experience before they graduate compared to just 29% in the UK. If we are worried that our graduates do not have the skills required to meet the needs of the UK's businesses, then surely giving them experience at an early age will fill this void?

So what affect will this really have? Well it is obviously early days, so we will not be able to gage the impact for quite some time. There is no denying the story has caused quite a stir, and in this time of unemployment and uncertainty, any job opportunity that is created is surely welcomed. Also, it is great to see internships getting so much attention as we believe that they really are hugely beneficial for students. So is this a PR stunt by the government, or rather a calculated move that will benefit students immensely by changing the shape of graduate employment? We certainly hope for the latter and await further detail with interest...

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