Graduate employment opportunities are becoming rare by the day. With the global economic crisis that recently hit almost all sectors globally, the situation is worsening with some firms retrenching their staff. This is because it is not economically viable to maintain them when the firm is making losses. The few opportunities that are coming up as some of the sectors are recovering from the recession, are too few to absorb the growing number of jobless graduates. There are so many graduates chasing few opportunities. This mismatch is causing an alarming upsurge in the competition for graduate employment opportunities (DiConti 2004, p. 56). As a result, undertaking a work placement before leaving university has become quite lucrative as it is giving graduates a competitive edge in the job market. Both placements and work experience are recognized as vital components of an applicant’s curriculum vitae. United Nations is leading in offering internship opportunities to students in the universities pursuing undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.
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United Nations offers internship opportunities in most of its agencies like the World Food Programme (WFP), World Health Organization (WHO), and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), amongst others. In all these agencies, students are exposed to different fields, given different tasks and responsibilities, allowed to work independently and accomplish the assigned duties (Knight 2000, p. 216). This enables the student to become responsible and independent in mind, become people who can work under minimum supervision, and can also choose to build up their career in the field they are exposed to. A report on an internship with the United Nations shows that the interns acquire practical and intellectual development during the internship period. They are also engaged in an element of self-assessment of their own experience, skills, and knowledge. It is also vivid that students acquire vast knowledge and excellent skills (Rittberger 2001, p. 25). They are also accorded a very high level of responsibility and independence. Each of these core values that an intern acquires plays a major role in their career development. Students also have expectations while undertaking an internship and at the end of the internship period, they need to evaluate their expectations to ascertain whether they have been met.
Objectives of UN internship program
One of the core objectives of this internship program is to enable students to enhance their educational experience through practical work assignments. In most cases, the knowledge acquired in school is theoretical (United Nations Department of Public Information 2008, p. 6). Internships, therefore, give the students a chance to merge what is learned in class with what happens in a real-life situation. Most of the students do not realize how good or how poor they are in the course they are doing in the university until they get into the corporate world. In some cases, the theoretical knowledge that the students acquire in school may prove the student wrong when they are unable to apply them in a real-life situation. The internship program, therefore, enables a student to continuously perfect what they learn in class through applying them in a real-life situation.
It is also aimed at creating a framework that allows university students from diverse academic and national backgrounds to be temporarily attached to the United Nations. This can act as a way of creating national and world integration because interns of the same or different nationalities can have a chance to work together for a common goal of the United Nations. This can create a praiseworthy cohesion between people of different nationalities or the same nationalities as they work together to achieve a common goal (Cowan & Oxana 2001, p. 23). It enables candidates to gain strong insight into the work of the United Nations to enhance their educational experience through practical work in an international organization. This makes the students gain international exposure and also become not only educated people but also learned.
The internship also provides training and assistance in various relevant professional fields. When students are given duties in keeping with their educational experience, they develop well in that profession. It is to some extent more profitable when a student is exposed to a different relevant area from their university course. This exposes them to a wide spectrum of knowledge in a different profession (Carter 2000, p. 134). This may also help the student to assess whether he made the right choice of the course being pursued in the university and can have a chance of changing his career.
It is also aimed at providing to the United Nations, on regular basis, the assistance of knowledgeable and qualified university students. To the United Nations, making use of these qualified students is much cheaper than hiring permanent people to perform the same duties done by these students. The UN, therefore, enjoys cheap labor in one sense but in a higher sense students benefit more (Saleem 2003, p. 193). Students are given responsibilities and assignments which enable them to apply their learned skills and knowledge in a real-life situation. This provides an opportunity for the students to assess themselves and see how effective they can be in applying their theoretical skills and knowledge in a real-life situation and also assess the applicability of what is learned in class.
Students’ expectations in UN internship
Although it is reasonably argued that internship is largely what you make it to be or what you make of it, most students have expectations of what to gain out of it. For UN internships, students have very high expectations that they will be given a contract after they graduate. In most cases, this expectation is not met. Other legitimate expectations are that the intern will not be overworked, get assignments that are relevant to their course of study, gain relevant experience that will be recognized even after they leave school, and acquire relevant skills and knowledge that will be helpful to their career development (Rosenau 1992, p. 29). They also expect to have a well-defined line of specialization while on internship. This is dictated by the skills that the intern is wishing to acquire.
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The interns also expect that their works and responsibility will be as stipulated in the interview or hiring process but they should recognize that some changes may be inevitable as the employer responds to changing business conditions. They should give room for some of those inevitable changes which may even be beyond the control of the employer. If the internship is not voluntary, that is it is a requirement of the university, the intern expects that consideration is given to the assignment of a mentor or assessor to the intern, preferably the one who is external to the department where the intern is positioned. This gives the intern a chance to work freely without tension and without feeling that they are excess fully monitored and has no freedom to work independently (Carter 2000, p. 14). The intern also expects to be given an opportunity for growth personally, professionally and get skills to enable him to grow career-wise. Mostly the organizations like unite nations provide a good environment for all these perspectives of growth but growth itself depends on the willingness and the commitment of the intern. So as regard growth, the intern has the biggest role to play. The other expectation of the intern is that he will get a chance for association with his professional colleagues and role models and also an adequate, safe workplace for carrying out his obligations. This gives the intern freedom to do his work independently and to associate with people freely (Schon 1987, p. 17). Also, the intern expects that the company he is in will continuously evaluate his performance, alert him on his weaknesses and strength and also get suggestions on how he can improve himself and his performance, and also know the performance objectives. This will make the intern effective throughout the internship period.
Students should learn that although they see an internship as an opportunity to acquire experience, there is no guarantee that the experience will be acquired smoothly (Sargeant 1992, p. 123). There are stresses and difficulties but interns should learn that the best experience possible calls for a positive attitude, willingness to take the initiative, and openness. Interns should set goals and objectives before the internship begins and keep them clearly in mind throughout the internship and work to achieve them through and within the internship period. This will ensure that the student feels satisfied after the internship. Before a student sets his expectations of the internship, they should know what real internship experience is. To be more precise, the real internship experience goes beyond the managerial and technical details of the project and assesses the character of the intern in terms of what the intern is capable of doing. That is a test of whether the intern is resourceful, creative, resilient, how important he can be to the employer, can he do more than is asked to do et cetera.
Knowledge learned, reflection on skills acquired, level of responsibility and independence
For an internship to be effective and achieve the intended objectives, it must go beyond the trivial tasks of filling and documentation and engage students in experiential learning. The students must have an opportunity to put into practice what they have learned in class. In most cases, the employers do not allow the interns to practice what they have learned in class in a real-life situation this could be due to fearing that the interns do not have experience and may mess up with things in the company. However, the employer should know that it is their responsibility to ensure that the interns become effective workers (Roseau 1992, p. 89). They must train them on how to become effective workers. These interns are in search of quality work experience that ensures that their knowledge of their soon-to-be profession is well researched and thought out but not only for pastimes.
Every intern should be given assignments relevant to their areas of study so that every second is valuable to building their knowledge of that area of study. For instance, a student studying accounting will be spending more time doing accounting as a major and profession so that he can easily build up his career in that field. The internship requires students to make use of what they have learned and apply the knowledge gained in school to a professional setting so that they can have an understanding of whether they are interested in the field they are studying. In most cases, the employer may not at all be interested in knowing whether the student has acquired skills or not. However, the student must be able to evaluate himself to see whether he has been enlightened by the internship or not in terms of skill development or job knowledge. To know whether one has acquired the skills and job knowledge, the following points may act as parameters:
Throughout the placement, the interns must show that they have developed skills or job knowledge. If the student has gained the job knowledge and has developed the necessary skills to make him effective in doing the job, then we can say that the internship was relevant to him. Job Knowledge and skills mean that the student had understand how to perform a certain task without being guided by the employer or the supervisor. He must be able to perform everything necessary in that particular job on his own and can be entrusted with that task fully. It involves understanding all the steps involved in that job, how to apply them and when that job is considered complete.
The other parameter is for one to evaluate his contribution to the company he is attached to. This involves the new idea that one can claim that he brought to the company. Every employer wound wants to know the value that the employees bring to the company. If one does not add value to the company he is precisely a liability to the company. The intern should also assess how much has he contributed to the mission of the organization. They should first know the mission statement of the company they are in and do what they can to enable the company to realize its dreams. The mission statement shows the commitment of the company towards realizing its vision. It is the mission statement that guides what the company does. Every person working for the company must also work within the mission statement and so do interns. It is absurd to work for a company that you do not have its mission statement, it shows that the person does not know what he is working to achieve.
The intern should prove his reliability, attendance, and punctuality in the job he is doing. Learning to do a certain job also entails adhering to the guidelines set by the company concerning the job and applying them to accomplish that job. There have been cases where interns fail to attend meetings and training sessions. This means that the intern is not prepared to learn and does not have objectives and goals to achieve during the internship period (Sergeant 2002). Attending meetings and training sessions is not optional for the interns so long as they are part of it. The Punctuality in reporting for the job and any other meeting organized by the company is a very vital parameter of gauging one’s performance in the job. Interns should report for work at the time stipulated by the company constitution. Adhering to these simple rules shows the commitment and the passion that the interns have for the job assigned to them. It also indicates the interns’ willingness to gain experience and skills related to that assignment (Roseau). It becomes easier for the company to engage a committed intern into intensive training that will make them better workers. The interns should also prove their reliability by showing consistency of good results in everything they do. This shows that they are people who can be entrusted with that task any other time with minimal supervision.
The level of responsibility and independence given to United Nations interns is very high and makes them feel valued and as part of the United Nations. It is the responsibility of the interns to complete the assigned tasks independently and correctly. This makes the interns develop that sense of responsibility and become people of integrity. Working under minimum supervision also makes them more responsible and independent of mind. The United Nations interns learn a lot of skills that make them effective workers. For instance, students gain problem-solving skills because of being entrusted with tasks that involve solving problems in a real-life situation. Most students are used to solving problems in books but an internship gives them a chance to encounter the same in a real-life situation. This also gives them a strong insight into approaching problems in a real-life situation that they might not have acquired in school. This can also improve their performance in school as they will have a brighter approach to questions.
Students also develop excellent interpersonal skills. This is because the students interact with their workmates, their seniors, and even visitors who come to their workplace. The interns learn to interact with people of different statuses, levels of education, nationalities, and different posts within the United Nations. This kind of interaction is different from what they have in the university because in the university they mostly interact with the students and rarely with their lecturers. The kind of interpersonal skills learned in the internship is one of the core values needed by all employers. This is because organizations believe in teamwork for them to achieve their corporate goals. It would be hard for somebody with weak interpersonal skills to work well with other people in the company.
The internship also makes students work well in a team and also become strong team players (Saleem 2003, p. 23). This is because during the United Nations people work together as a team to achieve a common goal in keeping with the United Nations goals and objectives. This is a character desirable in any other working environment. It, therefore, gives the interns a competitive edge when looking for a job after school.
Interns also get a much better idea of what working entails. The internship is a real change from student life to working life which requires the students to get up early and report to the office. It makes the students get used up to the working environment long before they get into the corporate world. This spares them a lot of problems when they get permanent jobs after school. Mostly the kind of communication students engages themselves in while in the university is quite informal. The internship enables the students to develop strong formal communication skills (Saleem 2003, p. 25). This is because in the United Nations they work in a formal working environment where every communication which is work-related has to be formal.
Internships are very important and they prepare the students to become effective workers after they leave school. Students also learn a lot of skills that are desirable in any working environment. Students who have been on internships come out of school a people well experienced and ready to work. Organizations prefer absorbing students who have been on internships because they incur the organization’s little or no training cost because they are already used up to the working environment and have the desired skills (Sergeant). Students are encouraged to look for internships in organizations like the United Nations where interns are valued, well trained, and can learn a lot of skills. Statistics have it that students who have been on an internship with United Nations are easily absorbed into the job market because of the reputation of the organization and also the skills learned.
Students should take internships seriously because they engage them in a real working environment and they are expected to behave as employees of that organization. They must follow the rules and regulations stipulated by the organization’s constitution. They should also have expectations of what to gain from the internship, their objectives, and goals to achieve during the internship period. This way, they will be able to evaluate themselves and know whether the internship was beneficial to them. Internships are therefore worthy undertaking especially with reputable organizations like the United Nations.
Carter, D., 2000, Writing as reflective action. New York, Longman.
Cowan, R, L. & Oxana T., 2001, “Knowledge Transfer and the Services Sector in the Context of the New Economy”, Web.
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