It is becoming clear that a defining feature of a healthy 21st century labour market is its flexibility. As many developed economies have struggled their way through recessions, it is those countries with the greatest level of flexibility in their labour markets that have enjoyed the lowest levels of unemployment. Germany eschewed mass lay-offs as output fell and instead pursued policies that encouraged employers to retain workers but on fewer hours. This sort of progressive approach to the threat of rising unemployment – looking beyond traditional working patterns and developing incentives for employers to be versatile in their approach to their workforce – meant more people have remained in work during a period of economic turbulence.
While UK unemployment has not reached the historically high levels seen in previous recessions, there has been a disproportionally negative effect on youth unemployment. Coupled with the large rise in students and graduates that came about as a result of New Labour’s well-meaning but misguided higher education policy, we find ourselves in a situation where 20% of our recent graduates are unemployed. A further one in three are engaged in lower-skilled work that is not commensurate to their level of education: a patent waste of economic capacity.
With fewer firms hiring and greater competition from their peers, university leavers are struggling to get their foot on the career ladder. The question for the Government is: how does one foster demand for this excess of young talent in a market where there is a plethora of supply? The question for business leaders is: what does this mean for my company?
The simple answer to the latter is that British firms can now access a wide pool of bright young talent with relative ease. Finding future business leaders is probably easier now than at any point in the last twenty years. With staffing budgets severely limited, however, it can be difficult to justify the expense of hiring an unproven worker over an experienced employee. Which is where a new, flexible approach to employment can be the answer: an internship.
Previously the reserve of international blue chips, internships are now a major feature of the youth employment landscape and are used by a plethora of organisations across a wide range of sizes and sectors. A time-limited internship (at Inspiring Interns we recommend three months) allows you to observe a graduate in your workplace, provide them with training and experience, and ultimately ensure that they will be ready to add value to your organisation by the end of the placement should you wish to bring them onboard permanently. The minimal cost of an internship (we suggest that lunch and travel expenses are appropriate for a three month placement) mitigates the risk associated with engaging an inexperienced new hire. Meanwhile, for the graduate this represents an opportunity to try out a potential career, gain crucial experience, and make key industry contacts.
Having new talent in your business can have immediate impact too. The fresh perspective of someone yet to be moulded to accepted business practice can give you a different angle on how your organisation operates. Similarly, many recent graduates are comfortable with new technologies that are having a big impact on business (e.g. social media, web 2.0, mobile) and can bring an inherent expertise in these areas that you may currently be lacking.
With internships helping to improve graduate employment levels, the Government has begun to offer support through its Work Experience Programme, administered by Job Centre Plus. This scheme allows young unemployed people to continue to receive Job Seeker’s Allowance while undertaking an internship for up to 12 weeks. While the Programme is yet to have a widespread impact, it is indicative of the fact that the Government has woken up to internships’ potential to be a major tool in helping graduates find work and businesses grow.
The best businesses do not stand still in a recession but explore how they can improve and develop. Launching an internship programme could be the response to the downturn that kick-starts your next period of growth.
Andrew Scherer is the Communications Director of Inspiring Interns, and the author of Brilliant Intern.
For more information on how to structure and run an internship programme you can download the Inspiring Interns Internship Guidance for Business for free here: http://www.inspiringinterns.com/employers/internship-guidance/?utm_source=Knowledge%2BPeers&utm_medium=Blog&utm_campaign=Internship%2Bguidance