In the past, internships were a required part of practical training for degrees in subjects such as medicine and social work. Today, the objective of many internships is the enrichment of students’ transferable skills. These include multitasking and may involve reporting or editing in combination with social media marketing skills, for instance.
Most importantly, this is a chance to explore interests and strengths and to get a clearer understanding of career goals before actually starting work. The aim is to help narrow the experience gap that occurs during the transition from study to work.
However, that transition can also include the application of theoretical knowledge to practical work done in a real industry setting. Students should learn not only about their major subject area but also acquire generic skills. For journalism study at the Hong Kong Baptist University [HKBU] School of Communication, for example, such learning is linked with data analytics.
Some corporations consider the experience from internships gained by fresh graduates to be a very important factor when they decide whether or not to offer job interviews. Indeed, some corporations will give higher priority to students who have four or five relevant internships if they apply for management trainee posts.
Since fresh graduates with no internship experience have realized that they are disadvantaged, the demand for opportunities has increased. In the past, students might do one or two internships at most during the whole time they spent at university. Now, the trend is for them to do one or two every summer. I remember a student who came back to Hong Kong after finishing an overseas summer internship, immediately looking for a local one to occupy the remaining months of the long vacation.
Some corporations will give higher priority to students who have four or five relevant internships.
HKBU started exploring the possibility of virtual internships, both locally and globally, in 2020. Last year, ten virtual internships were available but within a few months, we have lined up 80 virtual internships. Employers want to explore ways of making good use of interns during the pandemic. Young Hongkongers are very flexible and that can help them adapt to this change. Given the ongoing high demand for local internships, I believe a hybrid, mixed-mode of internship with a combination of working at home and at the office, will continue this year and after the pandemic. Project internship, where employers engage interns to complete useful short-term projects, also lends itself to a virtual mode.
It depends on students’ portfolios and what they can contribute. In IT industries such as computer sciee or digital services and marketing, there may be a greater chance. At present, purely virtual internships are uncommon in local corporations. Most are mixed-mode.
Project SEED (Student Engagement, Enrichment and Development) has been launched to help students by mobilizing alumni, friends and partners who can offer them jobs, internships, mentorships and startup incubations. It includes a donation-based “SEED Fund” for emergency relief, enrichment and empowerment of students during the pandemic. We also believe that entrepreneurship is important. Starting a business may be a way out when the unemployment rate is high and so startup incubations are also part of Project SEED, providing different kinds of skills and forms of competitive edge.
As of October last year, we had 1,160 graduate positions and 1,340 internship opportunities. A new development during Project SEED was the implementation of “BUhub”, an interactive platform that lists all our job and internship opportunities.
At present, purely virtual internships are uncommon in local corporations. Most are mixed-mode.
According to the experience of two industry experts at a HKBU sharing session, the youth unemployment rate is not as high as expected. That’s because Hong Kong employers treasure the opportunity to bring in new blood and creativity. They have said that recent graduates bring added value to big corporations, especially in digital skills, since their generation is less resistant to new technology. As a result, they can play a good supporting role in this digitalization era.
In return, the interns should be paid at least the minimum wage. In reality, the amount they are paid varies but if the pay is lower than expected, student-interns might quit and waste those opportunities. Only if internships are very limited but worthy and not-to-be-missed, might it be acceptable to offer less than the minimum wage.
On the other hand, internships have become a normal way of sourcing low-cost manpower during the economic downturn. This can be the case especially for NGOs and some volunteer groups. However, the bonus for students will be greater exposure to different types of internship as a result.
Students should treasure every opportunity to become an intern, not only for the work training but also because it might provide the chance of getting a real job. When taking up an internship, I suggest that students might try to communicate directly with their supervisor to define the purpose and goal of the work they are expected to do before drawing up a work plan.
In order to be confident enough in the workplace to contribute ideas, students should be prepared to work in a team. That means being outgoing, flexible and open while maintaining respect for others.
or students without a personal network to help them line up an internship, joining work training and mentorship programmes organized by youth organizations or the university can help. It opens a way to put themselves forward and make use of chances for social interaction.
Employers do not always seek graduates in specific major subjects. They are now more open-minded when considering applicants. The boundary between disciplines has partly disappeared. As a result, students with general degrees can be competitive if they know how to enrich their portfolios.
Working for big firms is no longer the only choice. While there is currently good demand for internships, this may change in future. Work attachments in different industries may become more common rather than workplace internships.
It is worth remembering that the mindsets of employers are changing. In this new normal era, the focus is on convertible skills and the ability to explore new ideas and suggest new initiatives. Young people who can do both of these will do well.