Thanks to everyone that’s tweeted or commented to let me know what you’d find useful from my job exchange here at UC Berkeley.  Thanks too to all my fantastic colleagues here at Cal, who let me take over a bit of a Career Counselor team meeting a couple of weeks back, where I used those tweets and comments as the center of discussion, annotating some giant flip chart sized post-it notes.  Incidentally, flip chart sized post-its are the Best Stationery Item Ever.

Internships - group discussion notes
Comments on internship question from Jo Hutchings – thanks Jo!

Giant post-it #1: Internships

Initial comment from Jo Hutchings:

Would be great to hear more about the internship differences. I know here in the UK (and at Bristol – where I am a Careers Adviser) the request for internships seems to be more each year. My understanding of the US, is that it is very common for students/graduates to carry out internships – but is this after their degree? Are large graduate recruiters tending to recruit more from their pool of interns, which seems to be the way things are going here in the UK. Any insights in the US model would be gratefully received!

Notes from UC Berkeley Career Counselors:

There is a lot of emphasis on having internships while a student (or part-time jobs, or summer jobs). Many employers require students to receive academic credit (because they don’t necessarily pay interns). Students who’ve had internships generally will find it easier to become employed after graduation; yes, employers do look to their interns as potential hires – a mutual benefit. After graduating, students may seek fellowships, like internships (because of learning component) but paid. But getting a job is more common.

Increased numbers in post-graduation internships [aka the ‘fellowships’ referred to above]

Yes many employers use internships as a recruiting strategy for full-time [hires].

UK/US Internships: overview

First of all, around this topic I noticed a little linguistic confusion around the use of ‘grad’s: to clarify, what we in the UK refer to as ‘grads’ are really ‘undergraduates’ or ‘new graduates’ here in the US, rather than ‘grad students’ (which are ‘postgrads’ to a UK ear).

Second of all, internship pay and ‘academic credit’ is a big difference transatlantically. Although some internships are paid here in the US, many are not. If students receive academic credit for internships, employers may classify them as volunteers (paid or unpaid) rather than regular employees. Thus, employers may not have to cover them for liability or grant them other rights of employee status. Students offered an internship on condition of gaining academic credit generally need to approach academic departments which have classes (often independent study classes) for which requirements can be met through an internship, and often need to find a faculty member willing to ‘sponsor’ this form of independent study. Often they need to use their experience to inform a piece of assessed work, but not necessarily. Back in Oxford I’ve had a few American students ask me how they can get academic credit from the university for an internship. Now I understand why they were baffled when I informed them that simply isn’t a thing for Oxford.

Thirdly, I definitely feel that the incidence of internships is higher here in the US: it certainly isn’t unusual to meet a graduating senior (final year student) who has more than two internships, whereas I feel that the typical UK finalist probably only has 1/2 on average (if anyone has statistics on this, do let me know – it’d be nice to substantiate this properly!).  I see three factors underpinning this difference:

  1. Undergraduates here in the US have more flexible course structures, allowing them to take internships which run in term/semester time (each semester they can choose their class load far more flexibly).
  2. Undergraduate degrees are pretty much all 4 years long, giving three summers, rather than two.
  3. Universities offer many more ‘on campus’ internship and similar opportunities: take a look at what’s open to students here on campus!

UK/US Internship Trends

In both labour markets (or labor markets. Or employmentalized regions, jobful geographies or worksome areas. Ok, I made the last three up, but the suffixes are real.) there is definitely a rise in the number of internships being developed, undertaken and expected as part of the student hire process.  Just last week I was at an event at eBay (or ebay, which still doesn’t look right) where I was listening to their plan to covert 50-70% of their interns to full-time roles, following a summer intern program featuring flexible onboarding (induction), a mid-summer intern ‘conference’ giving access to senior management, as well as intern performance reviews and an intern ‘showcase’ event. Whereas I know of a number of UK tech firms who would argue that the summer’s not long enough for an intern to contribute to the company, eBay are very much of the opinion that a highly developed and attractive internship offer gives multiple opportunities to connect with and assess potential hires, particularly important given the supply and demand issues around STEM expertise.

Universities veto adverts for unpaid interns: The Times May 3 2013

However, unpaid internships really are very common indeed here in the US, despite similar employment legislation to Britain (in California, unpaid interns are actually classified as ‘trainees’, whereas in UK they are ‘volunteers’). The one difference that really is surprising is the absence of a student-led movement for intern rights (if there is one and I just haven’t come across it yet, do let me know!).  In the UK anti-unpaid internship campaigns are strong: see http://www.internaware.org/ and last week’s article in The Times.

I might predict this reaction to unpaid internships to become a trend which crosses the pond (perhaps regardless of academic credit arrangements, as students paying more for their public university education in the USA become less willing or able to work their summer for free. One group that I predict will not be battling low/no internship wages will surely be STEM graduates. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be 1.2 million job openings for computer science graduates by 2018, with only 316,000 students graduating from US universities to fill that need. Without a dramatic change to the cap on skilled worker (H-1B) visas, tech companies like eBay will have to work hard at their internship offerings to secure the talent they need, as soon as they can.  UK tech companies should take note!

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