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LEFT OF CENTRE: Business needs to play its part

Jason Francis

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SUMMER IS upon us and as customary at this time of the year, businesses are flooded with applications from students seeking internships and new graduates seeking jobs.
In years gone by, many businesses would have had summer internship programmes to facilitate the many students who were keen on gaining job experience and welcomed spending money.
However, the global and local economic environment has changed drastically in the past five years and the cost of doing business has increased significantly.
Many budgets which once included funding for summer internships have been slashed and reallocated to save existing jobs. This has resulted in a reduction of the existing summer internships and undoubtedly jobs too are scarce, as referenced from the adverse impact the economic downturn has had on youth.  
Youth therefore find themselves in a dilemma. How else can they gain critical work experience?
One plausible solution to the issue is that youth could volunteer their time and services to reputable businesses and organizations.
Some may argue that this is exploitation of youths’ labour and skills, but I see it as an investment in one’s future.
There are many benefits to be gained from volunteering – it builds character, reinforces knowledge and builds critical skills and competencies.
Just think of the interpersonal skills to be gained and the level of maturity and self-confidence which can be heightened through giving one’s time and services.
Consider this against sitting at home twiddling one’s thumbs with nothing productive to occupy idle time or engage one’s mind.  
Voluntary experience is always an asset; it also helps with networking, fosters a strong work ethic, provides greater insight, and can even help one to refine possible career goals.
Getting a perspective of an organization’s culture, knowing what is required from going through an interview process, learning to work in teams and to meet deadlines cannot be done from one’s sofa.
Might I even suggest that if one has an entrepreneurial inclination, a volunteer stint can help with the rudiments of knowing how businesses function and even gaining perspective on existing gaps in the market.
Of course there are other benefits, foremost that it simply looks good on one’s curriculum vitae.  
    Perhaps there are some reservations about volunteering and whether businesses will embrace this concept.        
Since many businesses complain about youths’ lack of work experience, I see this as an invitation for youth to vigorously pursue voluntary internship opportunities.
    Businesses also need to play their part. Internships should be high-quality and not exploit the youth but provide worthwhile experience that enhances their employability.
    Short-term stints, say, one month with reduced working hours or a reduced work week can be considered.
    The business benefits from increased productivity and the possibility of gaining new ideas with no additional cost to its operations.
Of course the terms and conditions of the internship should be properly outlined and agreed upon by both parties, with adequate feedback at the end of the stint.  
Youths who may be skeptical must recognize that we live in a very materialistic society. Jobs are indeed scarce and every bit of experience increases one’s competitive advantage.
Volunteering helps build critical skills not found in a textbook or classroom and should be seen as a viable option for the long summer holiday.