Concerns about unpaid labour and lack of local opportunities are putting off students and graduates seeking internships and summer placements, according to a poll by the National Council for Work Experience (NCWE).
The survey of 1,165 students and graduates revealed that 82% are not aware of any schemes in their own region and three out of four (74%) are turned off applying for placements this summer because of concerns that they would have to work unpaid amidst rising levels of student debt.
Heather Collier, director of the NCWE said: "Graduates desperately need some work experience to add to their CV to make them a better prospect for employers, and with rising levels of unemployment this is vital. There are a lot of unpaid internships around at the moment, but there are also many paid placements, particularly locally. Work experience continues to be valuable, whether it is paid or not. Ultimately it is down to individuals to decide what their boundaries are to ensure they are not exploited."
In response to the poll, the NCWE is working with university careers advisers and companies to help promote schemes available through its Find Me a Student! initiative. The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) is one of the institutions the NCWE is supporting.
As part of its Futures scheme UCLan has secured government funding to place final year students and graduates in paid placements within reputable businesses across the North West.
Collier added: "If they are living away, it’s tempting to go back home to see friends and family after finishing at university but it may pay dividends to stay this summer to take advantage of any internship schemes that universities may be running with smaller businesses in the area."
Steven Bell, employer engagement lead and project manager for Futures at UCLan, said: "Having good qualifications and knowledge is not enough, students and graduates need to be able to demonstrate practical experience and skills if they are going to get ahead in the job market. We have a range of internship-type programmes that we encourage students and graduates to apply for, but frequently we see low levels of interest and engagement.
"Our internship and business support programmes allow individuals to undertake paid activities within a business over a short period, and we have many testimonials that highlight the benefits afforded to all parties. Ultimately it is the employer that chooses whom to employ. A graduate who has demonstrable practical knowledge and expertise is more attractive and employable than one that does not – this is the bottom line, and is a message that today's students and graduates need to hear."
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