Internships have long been part of the collegiate landscape, but their relationship to students’ future prospects has never been more direct.
ICEF Monitor takes a look at the growing importance of international internships, offers tips on finding opportunities abroad, and what this cross-cultural work experience means for employers and students.
Corporate hiring practices are changing
The benefits of internships are well documented – they provide practical experience, a sample of life in a chosen field, networking opportunities, workplace confidence, and practice using specialist skills and vocabulary amongst real world customers and colleagues. All these benefits go double for international students.
But perhaps most important for internationals, internships provide a chance to get into internal hiring queues, a crucial advantage, since instead of the default approach of recruiting from the outside, companies are refocusing on hiring from within their own ranks.
What are the reasons for this? Internal hires take less time to finalise and have a positive effect on company morale, but the bottom line is they’re economical. According to an August 2012 Time article, the average cost of identifying and hiring an external job candidate is 1.7 times more than an internal hire, and the website hreonline.com reported studies have found that 40% to 60% of external hires “are unsuccessful,” compared to only 25% for internal hires.
The high failure rate for external hires has to do with many factors, among them culture and language issues if they are foreigners, integration and credibility problems with longtime employees, and steep learning curves. Internships can help reduce all these issues yet still allow the company to benefit from the fresh ideas and new perspective a foreigner can bring.
Finding international internships
There are hundreds of international internship resources. At universities, administrative offices for individual academic departments and career services centres would be the first avenues to explore, followed by international relations or foreign affairs offices. Websites, social media, and old-fashioned networking are also valuable tools.
Lauren Berger, of internship listing website Internqueen.com, suggests that students call companies in which they have an interest and inquire directly. In an interview with the New York Times she recommended making a list of ten companies, then visiting their websites and collecting contact information for their internship coordinators.
We’ve compiled a short list of a few other noteworthy external resources (note: most of these charge fees for their services):
- AIESEC – student-administered and present in over 100 countries, this fee-charging organisation provides 60,000 members a year the opportunity to live and work in foreign countries in areas of management, technology, education, and development.
- IAESTE – founded in 1948 and present in over 80 countries, this programme is open to degree level science, engineering, technology and applied arts students in the second year of study and above.
- KOPRA – a non-profit entity administering more than 500 internships focused on East Asia.
- Goabroad.com – a web portal offering a directory of over 27,000 opportunities abroad.
- The Leonardo da Vinci Programme – administered by the European Commission as part of its Lifelong Learning Programme, this offers financial support to EU students involved in internships in other EU countries.
- Intrax Global Internships – an organisation offering college students and recent grads from the US, Canada, and the EU internship placements in Europe, South America and Asia.
- CIEE – a non-profit, non-governmental organisation offering programmes for international students, recent graduates and working professionals as part of the US government’s J-1 Exchange Visitor Program to qualified international candidates for up to 18 months.
- IES Global – provides internships in over 150 companies in China across a variety of highly sought after industry sectors, as well as teaching internships in Vietnam.
- CRCC Asia – a fee-charging agency arranging internships in China in areas including law and green technology, and that usually has three times as many applicants as the 1,300 places it offers.
- International Cross-cultural Committee – headquartered in Tokyo and with offices in numerous countries, ICC accepts students and recent graduates between the ages of 20 to 30 from around the world to intern with host organisations in the Tokyo area.
Application processes vary depending upon country, visa requirements, field of employment, and other factors. Some schools offer credit for already completed internships while others do not allow credit accumulation to begin until after the internships are registered. The amount of credit to be earned also varies, depending upon the learning potential of the work experience and how many hours are worked.
From a recruitment perspective, being knowledgeable about internships at institutions, within host communities, and among international organisations can have a profound impact upon the fortunes on students. With so many options available, informed recruiters who know the details of the internship process in their markets can offer valuable data to students.
The growing importance of internships
Philip D. Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, recently told The Chronicle of Higher Education:
“Once upon a time, ‘trainee’ used to be a common job title. Now companies expect everyone, recent graduates included, to be ready to go on on Day One. The mantle of preparing the work force has been passed to higher ed.”
Or put more bluntly, for employers, internships are increasingly required of applicants.
Sir Tim Wilson, author of the whitepaper “A Review of Business-University Collaboration“, agrees. He believes government should offer tax credits to companies that create paid internships, and told The Guardian last year,
“The world has changed. If you look at a lot of internships offered in the corporate sector, these are highly competitive. I think we’re beginning to see internships being used as part of an extended interview process.”
The article also quotes UK Business Secretary Vince Cable as stating:
“The best universities around the world are building deeper links with business.”
Universities have long maintained internship programmes, however their evolution into an indispensable building block for students’ futures has caused many institutions to take a broader approach:
- The State University of New York, for example, is promoting cooperative education on all nine of its campuses. “Our goal is that all 465,000 students who enroll annually at SUNY have some sort of experiential education experience,” explained chancellor Nancy Zimpher.
- The University of Pittsburgh has also taken a bold approach. Any of the school’s 18,000 undergraduates who complete an internship preparation programme can receive faculty help finding an experiential learning opportunity before graduation.
- At Johnson & Wales University, a US $4 million fund has been created to ensure that all the students at its five campuses can locate and gain placement in a suitable internship.
- In Japan, a recent report revealed that 74% of 476 surveyed universities offer certified course credits to students who participate in internship programmes at companies. Furthermore, 95% of universities with more than 5,000 students grant credits for job experiences, 73% of them for studying abroad and 41% for volunteer projects.
Government and private companies are getting more involved as well:
- Canada is spending CDN $35-million to fund Mitacs, a national not-for-profit organisation that supports research and development at 1,200 companies through 4,800 internships for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Companies put up an average of CDN $25,000, matched by CDN $30,000 a year from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada to hire a PhD graduate intern for two years.
- In the UK, the private company Experio Enterprise recently launched a project-based internship and part-time study scheme for international students in London, with a 4-month programme designated for those requiring a UK entry visa, and programmes of flexible duration for those who don’t need entry visas.
- GlobaLinks Learning Abroad has launched a new educational webinar series on international internships which “helps advisors at universities better educate potential programme participants on the components and benefits of high quality programmes that go beyond basic internship placement.”
Internships and getting ahead
Collated international data for internships is not readily available, however various surveys help to paint a picture. In the US, a 2012 survey of 15,715 graduating bachelors students by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) revealed that 55% had received internship or co-op experience. Of that group, 51% had been offered at least one job.
However there was a divergence between paid and unpaid interns, with about 60% of paid interns receiving at least one job offer, compared to 37% of unpaid interns. To put the latter number in perspective, 36% of non-interning graduates received job offers. Clearly, not all internships are created equal.
But what is true is that, broadly speaking, students who have worked as interns command higher starting salaries on the job market. Research from Inspiring Interns revealed that UK graduates who interned for as little as three months could earn £1,500 more in their first year of working than graduates without work experience.
High demand for internships means some students pay for placements, which raises ethical issues – among them whether it is fair for companies to accept unpaid labour from indebted students, and whether wealthier students deserve the advantage of being able to pay more for placements. But as long as businesses drive demand, neither of these issues is likely to be resolved soon. In the end, barring changes to the system, the most important consideration is each student’s future needs.