on February 11th, 2021

Here’s the thing: when an employer is deciding whether or not to hire you, they’re looking at a lot more than how well you know your stuff. More and more companies are paying attention to the gap between the knowledge you get from your degree and the skills you actually need to succeed in the workplace; in the last ten years alone, research has shown “75 per cent of employers prefer job candidates with relevant work experience”.  

So what it comes down to is that it’s really hard to get a job when you don’t have any experience…and really hard to get that experience without a job. 

Fortunately, there’s a way to break that frustration loop: Work Integrated Learning (WIL). You probably know it better as an internship, a tried-and-tested way to get your first step on the employment ladder. But while the idea has been around for centuries, the way we find work experience today is a whole lot different to the way it used to go… 

  • The first apprentices that we know of were craftsmen in Babylon back in the 18th century BCE, when it was required by law for artisans to train the next generation. 
  • By the 11th century apprenticeships were common ways to learn a trade in Europe, with some trades more desirable than others: depending on the job, families might even pay a craftsman to mentor their child. 
  • Medieval apprentices would be packed off for up to seven years to live with their new master, and while most started in their early teens, they could begin as young as seven years old. 
  • While they learned the ropes, they would be given not only a place to live but also food and clothing. But before you get upset that modern internships don’t offer similar deals, apprentices were also forbidden from marrying for the duration of their learning and getting paid was usually out of the question. 
  • The Industrial Revolution changed apprenticeships again, which lost some of their popularity because many new machines could be run by unskilled workers. The skilled side of things, meanwhile, didn’t need such a broad level of knowledge as the old trades did. In England, however, the education system began taking on the responsibility for training at this time, offering apprentice programs for farmers and student teachers. 
  • Despite mechanization, certain types of apprenticeships remained common in the 19th century. In the US, for instance, both Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson were mentored by lawyers – it was the only way to train for a career in law. 
  • The word ‘intern’ was first used in the 1920s, to describe doctors who had trained in medicine but not yet been given a license. At about the same time, apprenticeships were changing again, with less time needed to learn a trade and more freedom for apprentices. For a start, there was less need to live with your master, plus the birth of trade unions meant you were more likely to get paid for your efforts. 

Modern internships as we know them came about with the increase of people with higher education. In the US in 1970s, only one person in ten had a college degree; today, that’s closer to one in three. Back then, it was your degree that set you apart; now more people have degrees, it’s the experience you have outside the classroom that can make all the difference. 

In fact, according to Time magazine, the internship has more or less replaced the entry-level job, with more than 62 per cent of college students securing them in 2017 (it was just 17 per cent in 1992). 

We know what you’re thinking: doesn’t that just mean you’re competing with other graduates for internships as well as jobs? Up to a point, yes. A 2020 study by the US National Bureau of Economic Research showed that you’re only likely to get a positive response to an internship application once in every 17 tries. 

At EIT, we commit to providing all our on-campus students 240 hours of work integrated learning at no extra cost*.  This equates to a 6-week full-time internship or equivalent in part-time hours. 

So relax – that frustrating loop isn’t a no-win situation after all. Now you can focus on your studies and still get the real-life hands-on experience you need to land a job at the end of it. Because while experience is important in getting a head-start for your career, so are contacts - and you get to use ours.  

*Internships are conducted post the successful completion of the first year of your program. You must have passed (grade of 50% or more) all first-year units and have good financial standing.  It is a prerequisite of graduation that EIT’s on-campus bachelor’s and master’s students complete 240 hours of work integrated learning. 

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