Priceless or worthless? The problem with modern internships
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Priceless or worthless? The problem with modern internships

Priceless or worthless? The problem with modern internships

The benefits of internships have been widely reported. They help narrow the skills gap to ensure students are graduate-ready, as well as offering a platform to put theory into practice, network with professionals and learn about possible career paths, and these are just a handful of benefits. 

For instance, one study suggested that graduates who had undergone an internship or who had a relevant job while studying “were more than twice as likely to acquire a good job immediately after graduation”.

“More than four in 10 of these graduates (42 percent) who strongly agree they had a relevant job or internship as an undergraduate had a good job waiting for them upon graduation, compared with just 20 percent of those who did not strongly agree,” it said.

Depending on the university, internships can be optional or a requirement for a student to graduate. Students may be able to commit to an internship on a full- or part-time basis, depending on the company.

But while many may wax lyrical about the benefits of internships, there are also common issues that can negatively impact students, some of which include: 

Internships are not financially viable for all students

Not all internships are paid, while some pay very little, putting students from a lower socio-economic backgrounds, who need to work to support themselves, at a disadvantage. Wealthier students or those who have financial support can afford to undertake unpaid internships, while this is hardly a viable option for those who don’t have such support.    

Some employers under utilise interns

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Some students are left performing menial tasks for the entire duration of their internship, and are fully aware that what they do on a daily basis is not the coveted real-life experience. Source: Shutterstock

While internships are common across universities, there are numerous reports of interns being under utilised during their internship. They are often asked to undertake tasks such as fetching coffee or doing clerical work, which contributes abysmally to their professional development and doesn’t help them develop work-ready skills.  

In the New Straits Times, Accenture Malaysia Strategic Engagement Director, Ebi Azly Abdullah, opined:  “Interns have different capabilities and experience. Some are more than capable of handling difficult tasks. Some need more guidance. Monitor their progress and nurture them.

“I treat interns as equal to the other team members. I test them to see their reaction to challenges. And the good ones will normally be absorbed into the company.”

This brings us to our next point:

Students don’t necessarily benefit from some internships

Organisations often look for graduates with industry experience, but this can be challenging for those who are stuck in an unstructured internship where they are not given an opportunity to be exposed to the ins and out of the workplace, or who are given little to no guidance or training on the job and ultimately, failing to benefit fully from the experience. 

Students in rural areas may have limited opportunities for professional development

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Students in rural areas may have fewer internship opportunities. Source: Scott Eisen/AFP

Not all students choose to study in universities located in major cities, be it for financial or other personal reasons. But this can become an issue for those who need an internship to graduate, but have limited opportunities to do so in geographically disadvantaged areas. 

Hence, they may need to temporarily relocate to areas with better internship opportunities, which brings us back to the fact that internships are not always a financially viable option for certain segments of students, particularly those lower down the economic ladder.

It’s clear that while internships hold so much potential, they can also prove to be a bane when there’s a disconnect between an organisation’s readiness to provide interns with the right professional development. Universities that make internships a requirement for students to graduate should support students in finding a suitable placement, or in advising students when confronted with difficulties during their internship. 

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