Sunday, 7 September 2014

Internships : does it offer a level playing field to everyone?

 After completing my master’s degree from the Stirling University in Scotland in 2009, I applied for my first internship in some of the top public relations company in London. As an Indian graduate in the UK, I knew it was going to be difficult:  the recession was at its peak, jobs were drying and it was very competitive.

Fortunately, I was given an opportunity by the UK’s top ranked PR Company, Bell Pottinger for a month - it was without pay. The only incentive I received was expenses for lunch and the fare for the London underground. For me it wasn’t that difficult: my aunt lived in London so I had a place to stay.

All I wanted from the internship was to gain exposure and knowledge of the UK’s highly professional PR and media industry. I was convinced that such experience in a foreign country, even if it’s for a month, will enable me learn a lot of new things.

The internship helped me in many ways:  I was given interesting work from day one invited to the brainstorming and discussion sessions with the top managers and directors; I interacted with graduates from other universities and on Fridays, I met with other colleagues and MDs over drinks. Above all, I picked up valuable PR and creative writing skills something that you could possibly not learn in the university. 

And what else, by the end of the month, as luck would have it, I was taken in paid in position for a few months. When I finished my tenure, I was immediately offered a full time job by an upcoming PR agency in Wiltshire in South of England.

So the risk I had taken had paid off. I was bit privilege in the sense that I had place to say and didn’t have to worry about food and other expenses – in short I could afford the internship, which made a huge difference.

This year, I had an opportunity to facilitate internships for four British students with India’s largest and very reputed NGO Sulabh International. The NGO had made all arrangements for the students including free stay. The International development students to my knowledge had an enriching experience.  The students still had to pay for the airfare to come to India – they could once again afford it.

When it comes to internship and global exposure the balance is tilted more in favour of the students from the rich countries.  It’s cheap for  them to travel to the developing countries for work. For students from the developing world the scenario is way too different:  it’s very expensive to go abroad; most students rely on bank loans or scholarships for their degrees.  Getting an internship depends on ability to acquire work visa in additional to exceptional merit. The economic downturn has made it almost impossible for foreign students to get internship  at least  in the UK.

Doing internships can help in a number of ways: my exposure to the UK work culture helps me a lot while working for western media here in the subcontinent. I understand the expectations and am able to deliver accordingly. Also in an integrated global economy where the mobility of skilled labour is desired, exposure to global working environment can help in bringing fresh ideas, facilitate team work and help implement a more dynamic work culture.

The Economist this week in its in-depth report on internships says the trend is on the rise and has become “the first step to a white collar job”. The article mainly talks about the job market in the US, however refers that big companies even in India, China and Japan are coming up with innovative graduate internships schemes.

Internships, no doubt are valuable, but multinational companies and big corporates in countries that has a huge flow of foreign students could have a system so that talented graduates from all over the world gets an opportunity.  After all, the world economy needs diversity.

 It also mustn’t be only for those who can afford it- certainly it’s not a bad idea to offer at least the minimum wage.