The virtues of internships

The virtues of internships

Not long ago the media had a field day pointing fingers at businesses that recruit interns. Sounding all too familiar, I went online to discover that this yearly gripe that generates extensive print and broadcast coverage, does not ever seem to have had a strong counter argument.

A brief mention of the history of internships is relevant in the context of the recent debate.

The concept of intern programmes has been part of career building for centuries. In the European trade guilds of the 11th and 12th centuries, tradesmen and master craftsmen offered young learners professional apprenticeships requiring them to take on the menial tasks involved in the trade, later rewarding them with promotion and better pay.

Which brings me to today’s world.

The brand and design industry is certainly not exempt from recruiting unpaid interns, but speaking on behalf of Hulsbosch and no doubt many of my peers, let’s stand up and say it straight.

Sure, some industries may have different intentions but where I’m sitting, ours are clear.  We provide graduates with an opportunity to get to know how the business ticks, in a real working environment. Interns work on actual projects and are put through a structured induction programme exposing them to all facets of the business from account management, design, finished art and production.

Frankly, to align this with exploitation is insulting.

Unsurprisingly, a recent Google search on the issue of internships shows both national and international coverage dating back to long before the recent surge of press. Of interest however is that stories are predominantly negative. Headlines such as -“Why can’t we let the internship debate disappear?” and “Fairwork’s internship crackdown – what you need to know” – serve only to fuel the negativity that has monopolised discussion and to perpetuate the media’s definition of interns as exploitative, free labour.

Coupled with this is the blanket assumption that all business use intern programmes to exploit willing, young workers, many of whom come armed with tertiary qualifications.

Of course this is exactly the sort of copywriting that attracts readership, especially if controversial stories are uncovered. However, neither the advantages to those parties involved such as those I’ve touched on above, or a fair and thorough review of the different industries using interns, have been critiqued. There are many businesses out there that play the game fairly, with no abuse, exploitation or expectation.

Herein lies my issue with the recent furore about interns. It is simply not balanced.

We believe that if we help the next generation of designers to understand our business and the brand and design industry at large, we will assist them to make a smoother transition to successful employment while eventually benefitting not only their first job experience, but the success of the industry itself. Be mindful of the fact that in the not too distant future this pool of talent will have taken the reigns and be issuing the pay cheques. Therefore sharing our time, insights and knowledge to enrich the education process of each of these graduates, is a small ask. It is a time of professional nurturing and perhaps even a little bit of hand-holding, and shame on any company that treats it otherwise.

An industry’s young blood will always be able to offer a business fresh perspective no matter in which industry it operates. There may be no pay, but the giving works both ways. 

See B&T's story: 'Exploitation rife in adland, B&T study finds' for more on this issue.

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