Create Opportunities for Students and Graduates

L-R Emily Buchanan (UEA), Dr Sarah McIntyre (UEA), Rebecca Lewis Smith (Fountain), Lucy Jobber (UEA)
L-R Emily Buchanan (UEA), Dr Sarah McIntyre (UEA), Rebecca Lewis Smith (Fountain), Lucy Jobber (UEA)

Can students facilitate the growth of SMEs as well as get the experience they need?

The unpaid internship argument has been an on-going one with organisations, charities and spokespeople on the topic of unemployment pointing fingers left, right and centre. What we aren’t hearing enough of are solutions and how everyone can benefit, most importantly the young students and graduates.

When I graduated 2 years ago I applied to many jobs and for one reason or another was rejected, some I beat 200 or so candidates to a second interview and some just never responded to my initial application. In order to get experience – which is what I was told I needed countless times, I applied for unpaid internships. I did 6 unpaid internships in London before I returned to Norwich where I grew up and continued my job search. Although I was working part time to meet my living costs it was a real struggle and I still felt I wasn’t doing enough. It was at this point I wasn’t sure how everything was to turn out until I got an interview at a Norwich SEO agency called Fountain Partnership.

During my research of the company I came across an article in the local paper that the Founder and Managing Director, Rebecca Lewis Smith had written encouraging employers to “see the value in graduates from across the disciplines” of University degree subjects. Rebecca explained further how a passion for learning was crucial in business and highlighted other transferable skills that graduates have to offer. I found it inspiring to hear a local businesswoman speak out and vouch for young people who had chosen to follow their enthusiasm for a subject instead of opting to study a degree as a means to an end.

I now have the great fortune of working at Fountain Partnership and working alongside Rebecca in collaboration with the local University – University of East Anglia, to create opportunities for the students to get paid work experience. The programme is called the University Writers Service and as the first of its kind it is currently in the pilot stage but has great potential to expand or even been rolled out elsewhere. We pay the students involved the same wage as we pay our freelancers and they get experience, training and references in return for their work which allows us to get to know bright young people who will one day be looking for employment.

As leaders in business and aspiring leaders in business, there is a level of responsibility to find solutions that not only give something back to surrounding communities, but also to share with other businesses ideas on best practice for offering opportunities that benefit all.

Sometimes it is not worth relying on the outside bodies or organisations to provide these kinds of welcomed changes, which is why I believe it is important that businesses continue to step up to the challenge of providing solutions. One of the characteristics many of the best business minds possess is a solution-focussed attitude; marry that with the ability to identify an opportunity and generally speaking you are on to a winner. Business skills are just as adaptable as those a graduate learns throughout their academic career which is something employers should never forget.

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