Internships are a tricky subject, and one we’ve covered numerous times on this blog channel. On one hand, they’re considered slave labor; on the other, the quickest way to Gen Y success. So which is it?
The nightmares of internship stories aren’t scarce (and perhaps there will be a roundup of those soon!), but the Alcoa Foundation Global Youth Internship Program is a positive one to share. The program places interns in manufacturing plants in various parts of the world (10 countries so far). While the goal of the program was initially to place unemployed youth in paid internships to identify and secure long-term employment, a side benefit for HR recruiters is it’s helping them identify much-needed talent in a nonrisk environment.
Stephanie Burgess, Mereway Kitchens, Ltd.
I interviewed Stephanie Burgess, group human resources manager at Mereway Kitchens Ltd. on her work with the Alcoa Foundation and found out how internships are helping her company bridge the skills gap.
Tell me a little bit about your work with Alcoa Foundation’s Global Internship Program for Unemployed Youth. How long have you been involved with the program? What made you get started?
Burgess: We were contacted by an organization called The Pump in Birmingham West Midlands, which is sponsored by Alcoa Foundation’s Global Internship Program for Unemployed Youth, about 18 months ago. We were given to understand that The Pump provided 12-week programs for young people which included interview skills, writing a CV and work-based skills, including a forklift truck license in readiness for the world of employment, which is very different from their schooling environment which, in some cases, had not provided sufficient schooling for individuals to achieve a particularly good level of education.
How many interns have you hired?
Burgess: As our business was growing, one of the main issues we have as a manufacturer is not only an aging workforce but also lack of skills and new talent coming into the business.
As part of our recruitment strategy, we took the initiative to take on eight apprentices, offering on-site training but also an opportunity to complete a recognized qualification within manufacturing.
Following interviews, we sourced our apprentices through The Pump and they were located in different departments across the organization. Of the eight apprentices recruited for 12-month placements, we retained seven, each of which offer a different set of qualities to the business, which have been built into the qualification identified with them agreed by their line manager.
What kind of learning and development needs do you find these interns have?
Burgess: They have all demonstrated their willingness to learn and understand the principals ofmanufacturing, and are nearing completion of their qualification. Three in particular have worked in more than one department, as they have shown initiative and ability to learn new skills, which benefit the business tremendously allowing flexibility in the productionprocess. Our high-spec product has a number of technical elements that need to be achieved before any employee is in a position to contribute to their manufacture. The manufacturing process’ standards of quality are exceptionally high. However, as a business, we have seen the benefits of these young people wanting to prove that they can do a good job, and they are as good as anyone else in the workforce driving their motivation to achieve a number of skill sets.
What benefits does it have for you? How are these benefits different from other, more traditional ways to hire young talent?
Burgess: We had tried to use an apprenticeship program two years prior by advertising an office-based position on the standard apprenticeship website. The apprentice we placed quickly lost their enthusiasm, and after three weeks, we saw time-keeping and attendance decline and a lack of interest in what they were doing, which gave us a negative view of general apprenticeship placements. So it was a task in itself to convince managers to take on further apprentices.
However, the difference in using The Pump was that these young people really wanted to prove they could achieve and maintain a job they enjoyed that is “hands on,” working as part of team but mastering the skills required to produce a beautifully manufactured product. They were very positive and motivated right from their interview stage, which had been supported by The Pump.
If you speak to our apprentices, they can prove they have achieved a number of skill sets and are proud of the fact that they earn a wage every week and positively contribute to such a beautiful end product. One in particular has used it to pass his driving test and now drives a car, which he is particularly proud of and quite openly tells us that if he hadn’t been pushed and mentored by The Pump into his current role, he would be sitting at home with friends watching TV claiming unemployment benefits, with no money and no career prospects like a number of his friends.