[November 2019]Why current university students are ready to enter the workforce

By Emily Hunter Cohen, WIL Senior Industry Officer (International) and Career Accelerator , UNSW SYDNEY 

What imagery is invoked with the word ‘internship’? Is it a sleep-deprived 20-year old running frantically to deliver coffee in between hours spent at the fax machine?

For just about anyone with exposure to university-led internship courses in recent years, this image of mindless work is just as antiquated as the fax machine.

So, just what is an internship in today’s state of play? It is an opportunity to apply theoretical knowledge to real-world situations and problems through industry partnerships. Encompassing internships, Work-Integrated-Learning (WIL) is the term commonly used to describe career development enhancing activities that attract academic credit. Here are some of the common varieties on offer at many education providers around the globe. (The terminology may vary by institution.)

Internship – sourced by the student or the university, this model sees a student embedded in the office of a host company for a set period of time. The host company will set duties and responsibilities for the student and assign a staff member(s) to provide mentorship. Complementing their time in company, students will complete employability training modules, reflective tasks and a report. Many students will still have an intimate relationship with coffee, but they won’t be fetching it for their boss.  

Consulting project – this model places students in small teams to work on a business project assigned by a host company, typically delivering a presentation and written report. The students do not necessarily complete their project work at the host company’s office, but they should interact with their aforementioned host through some visits and when delivering their findings. Like above, students will typically complete employability training modules, reflective tasks and a report. Additionally, they may submit a peer review of their teammates. Some of these students are so good you may rethink your need for McKinsey, Bain and BCG.

Virtual – similar to the above models, students will work on tasks or a project assigned by a host company but will not physically spend time in their office. The hyper-linked example does not attract academic credit but develops participants ‘employability skills’ (a much more appropriate term than ‘soft skills’) and provides a great base for participation in internships or consulting projects. A fantastic opportunity to gain professional experience while wearing pyjamas.

Global – this can take the form of an internship or consulting project; the most important factor is that the placement is conducted overseas from the participants’ educational institution and provides an opportunity for cultural immersion. Since 2015 UNSW Business School has run the Global Business Practicum Bangkok with the support of several AustCham Thailand members. This course places teams of 3-5 students to work as consultants on a business project assigned by a host organisation. My shameless plug – contact emily.cohen@unsw.edu.au if you would like to host students in Bangkok or another Asian capital city.

Innovations – There are A LOT of neat innovations in this space. At UNSW Sydney, we have a tax clinic course in which students support disadvantaged or vulnerable taxpayers in managing their tax affairs – students gain both an understanding of tax and ethical issues and academic credit at the same time. There are several other socially-minded courses available, such as the Big Idea. In this course students explore an area of disadvantage then develop a business case to address it. The best pitch enters a nation-wide competition led by the Big Issue.

In addition to experiential learning courses, many universities facilitate mentorship programs, host networking events and case competitions and provide a wide range of interesting training events.

Are you thoroughly impressed by the remarkable opportunities that are available for many students today? Interested in supporting the next generation of change-makers? Contact me if you’d like to get involved in some way.


emily cohen

Emily Hunter Cohen is an avid supporter of fostering intercultural connections and career development opportunities for university students. As Senior Industry Officer (International) for UNSW Business School, she manages work-integrated-learning programs throughout Asia-Pacific. Over the past 3 years, she has successfully applied for more than $1,000,000 in funding from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to support hundreds of students gain overseas experience. Emily holds a Bachelors of International Studies from American University of Washington, DC and a Masters of Cross Cultural Communication from the University of Sydney.
UNSW Business School is one of the Asia-Pacific’s leading business schools, ranked 43rd in the 2020 QS Global University Rankings.

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