- Ruobing Su/Business Insider
- Experts say internship programs can cater to privileged people, and don’t always best prepare participants for the job.
- Now, companies across industries are turning to fellowships and apprenticeships to better prepare entry-level talent.
- US employers posted 145% more fellowship job openings in the last year, and listings for apprenticeships grew 131% between 2017 to 2018, according to ZipRecruiter.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Last year, Kayla Usmani worked at Accenture, one of the country’s largest consulting firms, for an apprenticeship program – an alternative to their internship.
Usmani wasn’t grabbing coffee and performing mindless busywork typical to traditional internship programs. Instead, she was working for months honing in her computer science skills to eventually land her a job at the company.
Unlike traditional interns, Usmani wasn’t getting paid peanuts and relying on mom and dad to help her out. In fact, she’d been jumping around foster homes and hadn’t finished college before the program – a rarity in elite internship programs.
Usmani called the program “life changing” and said she would not have been able to get a job at a top company like Accenture without the apprenticeship program.
“Everything that I’m learning, like the new technology, and being able to have the support that I have now, I don’t know if I would have gotten that anywhere else,” she said.
As internship programs continue to get bad press – and even sued – for underpaying young workers, alternative options like apprenticeships and fellowships are rising to fill the gaps. (Business Insider itself recently switched its internship program to a higher paying, more specialized fellowship.)
The exact responsibilities for these recently prominent “ships” vary, but they typically last longer, are higher paying, and provide more in-depth job training than traditional summer internships.
And they’re growing in popularity: US employers have posted 145% more fellowships in the past nine months than all of 2018, according to an exclusive report that job-marketplace site ZipRecruiter drafted for Business Insider. The average listings for apprenticeships per month grew 131% between 2017 and 2018.
“The word ‘fellowship’ applies greater academic prestige; it also typically implies higher pay,” Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecruiter, told Business Insider. “It makes sense that there are more fellowships than internships in a tight labor market because employers need to do more to attract more talent.”
At a time when companies are considering diversity and inclusion efforts, plus preparing their entry-level talent for the ever-changing future of work, fellowships, apprenticeships, and other alternative internship programs are leading the charge.
Because they are low-paying, internships tend to cater more to privileged students.
- Getty Images
Internships are designed to help college students build up their résumés to get jobs after college.
Yet interns tend to be the lowest-paid position in an office. The average intern salary in the US is around $12 an hour, according to Indeed. That wage cannot pay for a one-bedroom apartment in most of the country, let alone in the major cities where white-collar internships tend to cluster.
Since these programs often don’t pay much (or sometimes at all), many low-income students cannot afford to take an internship, said Matthew Hora, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Plus, students aged between 25 and 34 increased by 35% from 2001 to 2015. This number is expected to grow even more in the coming years, as workers want to keep pace with rapidly changing technology. Many of these older learners have families to take care of, Hora says, meaning they don’t have the option of taking time off from their jobs for an internship.
“If internships are only accessible for students who aren’t working or have parental support, if that kind of lack of access continues to happen, you’re just going to see a reproduction of privilege,” Hora told Business Insider.
To help diversify their entry-level hiring pool, companies are creating additional programs targeted at nontraditional talent.
- Getty Images
Internships and fellowships tend to vary depending on the company, but in general, internships last for a few short summer months. Fellowships, meanwhile, can last for half a year, Hora said.
Many companies use fellowships and other nontraditional internships to help recruit and train diverse employees.
Wireless technology company Qualcomm, for instance, launched a program this year directed at individuals with autism or on the spectrum. People with disabilities have among the highest unemployment rates in the country, and advocates say nearly half of 25-year-olds with autism have never held a paying job.
Participants of Qualcomm’s program have slightly different responsibilities than traditional interns, senior talent acquisition specialist Matt Harris told Business Insider. They receive more hands-on mentorship than traditional interns, for instance.
Harris helped start the pilot program in April of this year with the goal of helping an underserved population, and get a more diverse staff than traditionally would come from the internship program. Qualcomm’s “nontraditional” interns worked from April to September, and those with good performance were hired.
“We support diversity and inclusion from a hiring perspective here at Qualcomm,” Harris told Business Insider. “I think we all have gone through an interview process before where we take our résumé and we turn it into the best version of it. Folks on the spectrum have a more difficult time with that than their neurotypical counterparts.”
Internships aren’t just flawed because they alienate diverse talent — sometimes they don’t even prepare students for their jobs.
In his research, Hora found that some internship programs can last just a few days, don’t have proper mentorship in place, and don’t have participants do more than make photocopies – nothing that prepares students for an actual job.
Plus, not all internships are equally as useful.
Healthcare internships, for instance, have lengthy screening processes to ensure young people can interact with patients with proper supervision. In turn, hospital interns get useful mentorship and guidance.
Students with history and English degrees sometimes apply to companies or startups that don’t have the same level of screening. Hora said he knew of instances where a surprised student arrived for an internship at a company inside someone’s garage.
“There’s a concern that [mandatory internships] are going to be pushing students to employers that are unscreened,” Hora said. “The scary ones that I hear about are in theater, media, and communications. I think that in some of those areas, there’s less oversight and less regulations.”
While the companies Business Insider spoke with clarified they are not letting go of their “traditional” internship programs, they are using fellowships and apprenticeships to supplement their existing entry-level recruiting.
LinkedIn also has an apprenticeship program for people without formal technical training looking to restart their careers.
The program, called REACH, is meant to work in tandem with the internship program to bring in entry-level engineering talent.
The REACH program launched in April 2017 with the purpose of attracting top talent that may not have gone the traditional “college to engineering” job route, LinkedIn’s director of engineering Shalini Agarwal told Business Insider. Many top tech companies – like Apple, Google, and Netflix – have complained of a “skills gap,” where not enough college graduates are prepared for the most in-demand tech jobs.
“We believe that the mismatch between talent supply and demand for engineers can be addressed in a sustainable manner by changing the way we identify, recruit, and develop talent,” Agarwal said.
Alumni of the program include a former fitness trainer, a former dietician, and a former elementary school teacher, a LinkedIn spokesperson said.
Sixty-five mid-career professionals have entered the REACH program so far, and the current class has 36 people in the program. Of all the REACH graduates, 21 are in engineering roles either at LinkedIn or competitive companies.
Traditional hiring practices don’t easily allow people without technical training looking to break into the tech industry, Agarwal said. The REACH program broadens the applicant pool for more diverse candidates.
“The REACH apprenticeship program is meant to serve as an ‘and’ to our recruitment efforts,” Agarwal said in an email. “It’s a way for us to open the talent pipeline to offer opportunities to individuals from nontraditional technical backgrounds.”
Some companies are using apprenticeships to better prepare entry-level talent.
- Courtesy of Kayla Usman
Accenture launched its apprenticeship program three years ago. While the consultancy’s internship program recruits four-year college students, the apprenticeship mostly selects “nontraditional” candidates who went to two-year schools or did not complete college.
Usmani, the 2018 Accenture apprentice, said while she never had an internship, she feels the apprenticeship differs from other programs for its focus on around-the-clock, long-term training.
The first six weeks of her program were used for just training, where participants learned Java, quality assurance, and software development. She also honed in soft skills like public speaking and coordinating across different teams.
Beyond landing a full-time job at Accenture, Usmani said she made new friends at the program – and they even maintain a group chat a year after saying goodbye.
“To this day I can reach out to my buddy or my executive mentor, and I still get to learn new things,” she said.