Saving graduates from the scrapheap: Worcester University's novel internship could give hope to students looking for jobs

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The Independent Online

Internships have a bad press. For many young people, they can be slave labour and involve a lot of hard work for no reward, as well as no job at the end of it. But that could be about to change. The University of Worcester has launched a graduate internship scheme, starting this autumn, which gives successful applicants (graduates of all universities) paid employment in companies or organisations for four days a week. The fifth day they spend at the university studying a postgraduate certificate in applied business management.

It appears to be the only initiative of its kind and has been launched largely for altruistic motives. With employers predicting a 5.4 per cent fall in vacancies this year, prospects for young people are dire. Realising this, Worcester's vice-chancellor, David Green, suggested a national graduate internship programme to Universities UK, the umbrella group for education but, as he puts it, "it didn't get terribly far".

The problem, he thinks, was that the Government was not prepared to put money into it. Instead, it channelled money via the Higher Education Funding Council into the Economic Challenge Investment Fund, from which universities can apply for cash to mount projects to help individuals and businesses survive the recession. Worcester applied for this and, with the £128,000 it won, went ahead and launched its own scheme.

The beauty of it is that students get paid work experience as well as a management qualification, and at the end of the year might even find they have landed a job. "We will pay each graduate on the scheme a £200-a-month bursary for the fifth day when they are studying," says Green. "This will enable them to keep body and soul together, not a lot more than that, but it will mean they won't get further into debt. But they will get trained and have the opportunity to get into the workforce, rather than have a terrible experience after graduation. Plus, they will remain a student, which means they have access to all our facilities."

The university is pleased with the interest being shown in its initiative by companies and local authorities who are happy to take on graduates for a year and pay them. Nick Harris, the chief executive officer of KC3.net, an internet company based in Kington, in deepest Herefordshire, hired the first intern, Andrew Officer, 23, through the scheme.

"We have trouble recruiting young people because we are in the middle of nowhere and with the recession it's good to get staff in as cost-effectively as possible," Harris says. "It means I can take on someone like Andrew who's an expert in internet usability."

Officer is thrilled to have a paid internship. He is earning £12,500 a year at first, but the pay goes up after three months and he is receiving the £2,400 a year bursary on top of that. His degree in interactive design from Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication in Chislehurst, Kent, means he is skilled at making web-based material user-friendly and is therefore useful to KC3.net. Without the paid internship, he would have been job-hunting. He says: "I said to myself that if I hadn't got anything by September I would have gone travelling. But I'm really pleased this came up. It gives me a job, a qualification and some extra money – it's too good to be true."

All the interns will be supported by a mentor, who will be an employee of the organisation or company they are working for. The aim is for the scheme to provide a minimum of 50 internships, but Green believes it may accommodate a lot more.

"This is great for the local economy," he says. "One of the structural weaknesses of the British economy is that small- and medium-sized businesses in the private sector tend not to employ graduates because they find them scary. We are breaking through this barrier because we've had one firm from Hereford come forward that I don't think has previously employed a graduate."

Other organisations hoping to recruit interns this way include Worcestershire County Council, which wants two people, Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service and the University of Worcester itself.

John Clark, 23, a graduate in sport and exercise science from Worcester, is hoping for an internship at the university, doing marketing and communications for Worcester Wolves, a professional basketball team based at the campus, or as a campus community development worker. He hopes his experience as vice-president of the Worcester students' union will help.

And Kimberly Robinson, another new Worcester graduate in health studies and psychology, is hoping for either a university internship in admissions and accommodation, or a position with the local council. She wants an internship because she has failed to get a job elsewhere.

The University of Worcester welcomes enquiries from other employers interested in the internships scheme

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