International Interns’ Day: ESU for Quality Internships
The European Students’ Union (ESU) recognizes the importance of internships for students as a way to consolidate learning by putting received knowledge into practice.
We underline Work-Based Learning (WBL) as a valued education pathway in our statement on the New Skills Agenda for Europe.
“Work-based learning is an education pathway that develops experiences and professional skills by allowing learners to put theory into practice. These programmes offer students an opportunity to learn in a relevant workplace. All forms […] of WBL must have adequate guidance included by the workplace provider and be held in close cooperation with the Higher Education Institution (HEI). Learners’ needs should always be of the highest importance to the process of finding and progressing in a relevant programme. Work-based learners should have a clear legal status as a student, a worker, or both, so they have full access to the relevant benefits and support. WBL shall never be used as a means to replace existing paid jobs or minimizing employment cost. Work-based learners should always be recognized fairly with formal accreditation that can be universally recognized, and with pay for their work when appropriate.”
Internships are valuable for both students/young graduates and employers. Each year, more and more internship vacancies are available. Unfortunately, not all internships provide students with quality learning content, there is a growing tendency to use them as a cheap working labour and/ or to perform tasks not relevant to their educational background.
Thus, for the International Interns’ Day, ESU would like to attract your attention to a brief overview of what companies should consider and apply in their interns’ programmes in order to ensure that students are treated fairly and that they are acquiring the skills needed for their personal and professional development.
On the very first steps, an analysis of the recruitment process can provide insight into transparency and the actual intentions of the companies behind the offer. It is concluded from how clearly information about further perspectives is articulated.
The baseline information student must be given before the start of an internship period:
– Description and introduction of all possible duties and responsibilities that may lay on the intern;
– Length of the internship,
– Possible remuneration or coverage of related costs,
– Rights as an intern, whether an intern may demand to be enrolled in a pension/ social scheme
– Preliminary information on future employment possibilities
Companies should offer a number of internships limited to their available resources and organisational aspects: number of employees, size or number of departments, facilities, etc. They should not hire an indiscriminate number of interns but acknowledge first their limitations as a company/organisation in order to offer quality internships (quality vs. quantity).
Working environment and proper supervision
Working environment must ensure that the intern develops as many necessary and relevant skills as possible. We believe that an ongoing supervision of the intern is the key to a successful internship.
An intern must have an assigned supervisor who is responsible for providing orientation, support and supervision along the internship. The supervisor -or mentor- is expected to be available for an intern on a regular basis and possess expertise in the working field area in which the intern is involved.
When talking about supervising important things to consider are:
– Number of interns per supervisor must be down-to-earth
– The supervisor must have experience in the field of the internship
– Working plan to ensure Supervisor-Intern synergy; including a strategy on how the supervisor will provide the intern with regular feedback, guidance, and support
– Understanding of internships’ specifics and the educational background of the intern
Content of the internship
Internships should be student-centered, thus ensuring that the maximum effort is put into differentiating learning processes for the best match with every individual. A quality internship is linked to the intern’s field of studies, interests and special needs.
It is necessary an assessment of the available capacity for training and supervision facilities for the intern.
Ongoing training should be provided and may cover the following aspects:
- Skills development. Interns may need few trainings in specific skills such as understanding of companies’ business/products, computer programs, office equipment and other tasks directly related to the job. Interns without previous training will struggle if they are not given instructions about the specifics related to the duties they will execute.
- Shadowing. Allowing interns to participate in activities and meetings is a great way to boost their potential, independence and leadership skills. Interns may already possess these skills, but a good understanding of the culture and functioning of an organisation enables to put them in practice.
- Questions. Interns might not know when to speak, how or what to ask. Engaging them in active learning by explaining and clarifying everything and encouraging them to be active and ask any questions on any work-related issue, are examples of good practices.
Internship definition and payment
We understand that depending on countries, universities and whether an internship is within or outside the curriculum of the studies, crediting for internships may vary a lot. Nevertheless, we believe that any internship should be ECTS credited and preferable be recorded in pension/social scheme. Also, according to labour standards, interns should be subjected to social security and a legal contract.
Thus interns should be aware of raising the following questions:
– How the internship will be ECTS credited?
– What is the legal basis for the internship?
– In case of a paid internship, whether they will be enrolled in a pension/social scheme
– Specific terms and conditions of the internship: duration, duties, rights, working conditions, confidentiality, etc.
– Awareness of appropriate workplace behaviour: the organisation’s policies, including harassment policy and the complaint procedure.
Remuneration / Payment
We support the position that all internships must be paid. Otherwise, interns might be forced to either depend on their parents, take loans or looking for extra part-time jobs just to be able to cover their living costs while they finish an unpaid internship. The later may have a negative impact on the interns’ learning process while doing the internship; their attention might be disturbed by the preoccupation of finding alternative ways of paying their expenses and result in them not getting the skills they wanted to acquire with the experience.
To conclude, we want to highlight that internships should definitely not be used as a means to replace existing paid jobs or minimising the employment costs for labour.
– By Yulia Dobyshuk, Member of the Executive Committee of ESU-