Trends in the Use and Outcomes of Graduate Internships

Work experience – especially at graduate level – is an integral component of career progression for any student. From internships and jobs, its benefits are evident: building professional confidence, meeting contacts that may become mentors and contacts in future endeavors, adding transferable skills to one’s portfolio and ultimately increasing employability are just some of the many reasons work experience should be pursued by graduates.

Due to rising tuition fee contributions from students and anxieties surrounding graduate employment markets, internships have become an essential route into jobs for some students. Internships can be integrated into degree programmes, offered as government schemes or found on the open market. This article utilizes secondary analysis from the UK Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey to analyze trends in use and outcomes of paid and unpaid graduate internships. Contrary to popular perceptions that internships serve as “stepping stones” to graduate employment and are essential in developing skills, human capital and networking relationships (GPCF (Gateways to the Professions Collaborative Forum) 2013; CIPD 2015), evidence suggests otherwise for paid interns.

Even when accounting for grades, institutional reputation, and other expected indicators of labour market positions, graduates who have completed an internship experience are significantly less likely to find graduate-level or creative jobs than those without this experience. This may reflect a signalling effect where unpaid internships may be perceived as inferior compared to paid ones and may therefore reduce social mobility.


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