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Internships: finding a new way forward

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2014 was the year of the internship backlash. Unpaid schemes were the target of a media attack and companies that offered them found themselves in the stocks. But now it’s 2015 and a fresh batch of eager graduates have just fled the university gates. So what does it look like out there for them?

Having spent a fair stretch of my twenties sifting through internships, work experience and free bits of work for various people, I’m actually, shock horror, not averse to unpaid work for graduates. I said this at a talk to recent grads last year and the eyes looking back at me seemed to scream, ‘you are the problem!’. But I’m sorry, I’m fairly sure that my fresh-from-the-dorms self was significantly under-skilled for anyone I really wanted to work with. Aside from the degree of course.

What bothers me about internships isn’t the money, it’s the ‘all take, no give’ approach, mostly from large firms. So as the invites to degree shows began dropping on the Stranger Collective doormat, I began to wonder what it looks like out there for grads now. I discovered that while unpaid internships do still exist, some businesses are beginning to think a little differently about what skills a graduate needs to succeed in work, what this could offer them and what they can offer grads in return.

“When you follow the straight and narrow, you miss out on opportunities you’d have if you took a more interesting route.”

My favourite find was the Unternship. This brilliant model, run by Golin – a global communications firm – focusses on developing a graduate’s sense of exploration and curiosity as well at their ability to thrive in new situations. An internship that sends you around the world, living with the Amish and wrestling alligators? Now that’s something I could get on board with.

‘But what’s the point?’ I hear you cry. Well, according to CEO Fred Cook it’s all about breaking through the status quo and discovering new horizons. “The young generation coming out of college have student loans and pressure from their parents to get a job, but what they don’t have is life experiences,” he says. “They’re under the impression that if they follow a strict path one step at a time, they’ll get the perfect job on the day they graduate. But when you follow the straight and narrow, you miss out on opportunities you’d have if you took a more interesting route.”

Fred Cook Unternship Video from Golin on Vimeo.

This philosophy has clear parallels with our Feeding model. And through our Raft event, we showed our guests just how much can be achieved and discovered when you paddle through uncharted waters. And while you might still think these life experiences are irrelevant to the workplace, I beg to differ. The things you learn or discover while completing a Tough Mudder event go beyond extra muscle mass. Like wise, going to an immersive theatre show is not only enjoyable, it also has you thinking in new ways, from new perspectives – which will inevitably inform your creative outputs. Cook agrees, “I hope [our Unturn] finds fresh perspectives on the world and brings back bold new ideas and creative things we might do for clients and for our company,” he says. We’re always looking for people who will bring us new ideas.”

So I’m optimistic for our new generation of graduates. Things are changing. But some still stay the same. Drive, determination and a sense of curiosity have always, and will always, take you a long way.

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Read more about the Unturnship.

Follow the Untern’s blog for inspiration.

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