There’s a common catch 22: you can’t get work experience without prior experience and you can’t get experience without work experience. In a world where youth unemployment surpasses 1 million people strong, the fight to get a job, or even work experience and an internship is getting tougher, and the unsuccessful, growing more disheartened.
However, the future is not completely bleak. I recently began my MA studies at Durham University and have already had two talks stressing the importance of work experience and part time jobs alongside studying. This is not only to provide income but to allow insight into a working world that always seems so far away from the student lifestyle. Now I’m not going to patronize you reading this by saying that work experience is important, after all, all experience looks good on a CV and shows a well rounded, balanced person with interests and experience that transgresses their degree, A levels or whichever qualifications they hold.
So what if you are one of those who manages to find work experience, where do you go from here? Well, hopefully you’ll have a fantastic experience that enables you to learn transferable skills for future jobs and situations that you may encounter. Whether it is a paid internship, or unpaid, if it is helping you to grow and develop as a person and teach you some valuable skills at the same time, what is the harm in participating in work experience along side your studies.
The main worry those I asked had about work experience is the concern about the blurring of the line between work experience and exploitation. There is a common method that can see various companies advertise an ‘internship’ or ‘unpaid work experience’ if they are unable to financially support a new full-time member of staff. This could be worrying for those who are desperate to get a job that they do anything to try and fit the criteria, and sometimes they may not even be taught anything relevant or of use to them. However, to get anywhere in this world, there does need to be a starting point. There is a distinction between short-term unpaid positions and long-term unpaid positions. Internships and experience can span from 4 weeks to a couple of months, usually consisting of say, two articles a week if you’re doing an internship in journalism or online writing. This is not exploitation strictly speaking, especially if it is a credible company or website providing the experience. There is always a distinction between the work experience a company is providing, and a lot of paid internships often means following on to a full time, well-paid job when the internship has concluded.
The key element of internships and work experience is that you are learning and being taught by someone. Whether you are shadowing a lawyer if you are interning in a law firm or witnessing the calculations of an engineer and talking through what they are doing, how, and why, the important element is that you are providing the company with something, but that they are also providing you with something back. It is all too easy to accept the terms of any internship if you are panicking when encountering the job search and then come to realise that it was not benefiting you at all, but only the company. They are essentially getting something for nothing, and hopefully you should be getting something back for your input.
When you are at University, to say it is encouraged to find work experience would be an understatement. Work experience is crucial, and you do need to start smaller in order to develop and then maintain the skills that will be required in later life. Work experience and internships are good for your CV, they prove that you are conscientious with your time, and make an effort with extra-curricular activities, just as committing to a sport or musical group would do. Work experience gives you the platform into the greater working world that eventually us students will all enter into. Sometimes it is best to dive into the deep end to grasp concepts that were foreign and unfamiliar before, however be conscious that your work experience does not just turn into exploitation. If you are not getting adequate compensation in terms of skills, lessons, time or even money (in some cases), tell yourself that you can look elsewhere and find an organisation that will value your input, as much as you do theirs.