Time for a new take on interns

Written by: David Burrows Posted: 09/09/2019

BL64_internsThousands of undergraduates are returning to university, having spent their summer gathering experience as interns. What value do these members of the workforce bring to businesses? and why should companies be investing in them? 

Gone are the days when interns spent their time stuffing envelopes or getting sent out to buy the team coffee and bacon sandwiches. Increasingly, internships are a true stepping stone to the world of work. 

Just ask Chris Voss, who, as an undergraduate, spent his summer holidays interning at investor services group IQ-EQ, which has offices in Jersey and Guernsey. Today, Voss works as a Trainee Officer in the company’s Private Wealth division. 

For IQ-EQ, employing someone who can hit the ground running because he’s familiar with the company means it is already seeing a return on its investment in those summer internships.

“At IQ-EQ, we believe interns should be given a carefully managed but real job that sees them working directly with people across a range of seniorities,” says Abbie Cardy, the company’s Direct Sourcing Manager. “This gives them the opportunity to make their mark and have their voice heard. Really listening to and involving interns means we are much more likely to keep them with the company beyond internship stage.”

Finding and holding on to good people is the holy grail of all Channel Islands employers, in what is a fiercely competitive labour market. Getting creative with recruitment and retention strategies helps, and growing talent on-island – through internships, work experience programmes, student bursary schemes and traineeships – is part of this mix.

“Student schemes such as bursaries and work experience programmes are a great way to source new talent within the local market,” says Harriett Bisson, Senior HR Resourcing and Onboarding Adviser at Ogier Jersey Legal Services. She adds that such schemes are getting more competitive each year.

Ogier supports local students through its bursary scheme, which offers aspiring lawyers financial support throughout the duration of their higher education and work placements within its legal teams through each academic year. 

The company also supports Jersey Finance’s Life in Finance scheme, which facilitates work experience placements for sixth form students at the industry body’s member firms. The scheme has resulted in numerous talented students wanting to work within the legal environment.

In September 2018, IQ-EQ launched its Trainee Discovery Programme in Jersey, aimed at A level school leavers or International Baccalaureate students looking to find their preferred finance career path. 

Over two years, those on the course complete a rotation of four six-month placements spanning the company’s funds, private wealth, corporate and company secretarial teams. After this time, they’ll then be allowed to take an optional three months’ sabbatical before deciding which department to join on a permanent basis.

Huge benefits

From an employer’s perspective, these training programmes can add real value to a company. Like Cardy, Emma Stewart, Head of Human Resources at Jersey-based fiduciary and administration solutions provider VG, reckons that in terms of the onboarding process, there are huge benefits. 

“Our trainees and interns are well versed in our company culture and immersed in the business from day one,” she says. “This means that when they take on permanent employment with us, that first ‘getting to know you stage’ is taken out of the equation and the process is far faster and easier than it might be with a regular new starter.”

Candidates have much to gain from these programmes too, particularly in terms of the breadth of opportunities they offer. As with IQ-EQ’s Trainee Discovery Programme, VG runs a rotation programme for trainees, which lets them spend six months in each department before making their minds up about which suits them best for permanent work. 

Stewart says: “This means they have a fully rounded view of the business and of the different types of roles available in a financial services company, rather than being specialists in one area. 

“We always start them off in Compliance and Risk as this is an element on which all our staff need to be fully educated. By doing this, we build the foundations for a really knowledgeable workforce.”

BL64_interns2Risk of burnout

While providing real and varied work challenges to interns and other types of trainees is a good thing, employers need to be mindful of not unintentionally exploiting young and enthusiastic workers. 

It should not be forgotten that the financial services sector hit the headlines in 2013 for all the wrong reasons when Moritz Erhardt, a 21-year-old intern at Bank of America in London, died from an epileptic seizure that the coroner said could have been triggered by his long working hours.
 
The media had reported on rumours that, in the run-up to his death, Erhardt had worked through the night eight times in a two-week period. 

In the wake of the tragedy, many investment banks tightened up their rules on working conditions for interns. Goldman Sachs, for example, was reported to have restricted the working day for interns to no more than 17 hours. That might not seem like much of an improvement to many, but it is progress from allowing interns to work all night. 

Cardy believes it’s vital to strike a balance between overworking and underworking. While you don’t want interns to burn out, you also don’t want them to be stuck doing nothing more than photocopying and making the tea.

Bisson says that the welfare of trainees should be a prerequisite for any in-house training programme. “The wellbeing of our employees is important to us. We have a great wellbeing programme in place, which is available to all students, along with wider firm policies and initiatives,” she explains. “We want our students and employees to feel valued and happy, so we take a flexible approach to how individuals work, such as operating a dress-down policy and having flexibility around how hours are worked.”

Intern demands  

That flexibility is likely to appeal to the current pool of millennial and Generation Z interns and trainees, compared with older generations that have gone before them. Cardy observes that today’s interns want structure, but they also want flexibility, mobility and clear opportunities for progression. 

“Millennials and now the emerging Gen-Z workforce value work-life balance, travel and experiences, and they’re much less likely than their predecessors to stick to one career throughout their lifetime. They need to know: what’s in it for me? And what can you, my employer, offer me?”  

Given this generational shift, and the fierce competition among employers for top talent, Cardy says it is crucial that companies listen to what interns and trainees want. 

She insists there are clear gains to be had for employers who are accommodating about their requirements, adding: “These generations also bring a lot of value to businesses – with their greater focus on social/environmental issues, greater diversity and fresh perspectives.”

This view is echoed by VG’s Stewart: “Our interns and trainees bring with them expertise in new technologies and social media that many of our longstanding staff might not have. This means they are teaching us as well as us teaching them and it really enhances the business.”

Those who have travelled off-island for work or education bring an additional, well-rounded perspective to organisations, adds Stewart, and VG actively seeks out candidates with such experience for this reason. 

“One of our younger employees wanted to go into further education and left to go to university, so we have offered him a regular holiday job with a permanent position at the end of his studies if he wishes,” Stewart says. 

“This gives him the assurance of regular holiday work, a continuation of his work experience and the potential of a career at the end of his degree in a business he already knows.”  

If companies can get their training programmes right – paying a fair wage for fair work that includes fulfilling and potential-enhancing responsibilities – more of them will see young, talented people wanting to start their professional careers with them. In the current war for talent, developing high performers in house could be the best battle strategy yet. 

CASE STUDIES

BL64_interns_Chris VossChris Voss, Trainee Officer, Private Wealth, IQ-EQ 

During his time as a student with Newcastle University, Voss completed a series of summer internships with IQ-EQ. He is now on a rolling monthly contract with the company while he decides which career path he would like to take. 

“When I began my first internship, I didn’t really understand how trusts worked and it was confusing once I started to be given work. I was eased into things by starting on big indexing projects to get used to how minutes work, and then my responsibilities soon grew from there. It felt like I was given a good amount of responsibility even in my first couple of weeks.

“The social side was great. Little things like team lunches, networking events and CPD talks were all open and very accessible to me. 

“I think a lot of students have travelling or dream jobs on their mind when they finish university, so I was clear that I didn’t want to commit to anything too permanent when I graduated. Thankfully, IQ-EQ was great about it and has ended up offering me a rolling contract while I decide what I want to do.

“It feels great to be offered work here without the instant pressure of commitment. I have come back to the company not feeling like an intern or a temp, with six months’ experience already under my belt.”

BL64_interns_BrookeLewisBrooke Lewis, Trainee Solicitor, Ogier

Lewis joined Ogier as a bursary student in 2014 and is now a trainee solicitor.

“There is a stark contrast between studying a topic and working on it in practice. Being able to learn this difference early on is a huge benefit. There’s a wealth of skills that need to be developed when working in an office and participating in placements helps you to develop office etiquette. 

“Some of the best placements I have had have got me stuck in on a project. While the tasks weren’t especially technical, I was able to feel like I was making a valuable contribution to the team I was working in. It also kept me busy, so I wasn’t stuck for things to do and it felt like I had really benefited from the experience. 

“Being able to shadow senior team members is also extremely useful. It enabled me to see that a lot more is involved in practice than simply working on a legal matter.” 

 


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