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Creating Unmissable Opportunities: Supporting student internships in Essex

Essex Interns: Creating paid internships exclusively for university of Essex students and graduates

One of the biggest advantages of joining the ICKG family is the access to amazing opportunities with University of Essex, from collaborative research to the wonderful grounds and facilities. But perhaps the most valuable opportunity for our businesses, is the chance to recruit talented students, through placements, jobs post-graduation, or through internships. In this article we’re going to explore the student internship experience, from the point of view of the business owners and the interns themselves. We’ll also hear from the university’s careers team on the value of the internship scheme and the funding provided by Santander, who provide grants to help small businesses host internship opportunities. 

Internships with University of Essex

Joanna O’Connor is part of the fantastic Careers Team at University of Essex, who support students throughout their studies and beyond. This goes from having a dedicated jobs board, a wide range of career events, a multitude of appointments to provide information, advice, and guidance, as well as dedicated Career Programmes that enable students to develop their employability, such as the Internships Programme.  

Internships are particularly dear to Jo’s heart, as she explained to us:

“When I studied at the University, I had the chance to do an internship and this was a life-changing opportunity. This provided me with work experience within a busy office which I could include on future applications, allowed me to gain an insight into working life, develop professional relationships which supported me when I looked for roles once I had graduated and finally supported me financially.”

Clearly the experience left a mark on Jo, as she returned to the university to help the next generations of students access similar opportunities to “develop and showcase their transferable skills and therefore enhance their employability.”

Why are internship opportunities important?

It’s a particularly important time to make these opportunities available to students, as Jo told us: “With the cost of living crisis, we have found the demand for part-time jobs and internships has grown significantly – and the number of opportunities undoubtedly does not meet demand. We always advise that businesses should ensure that they pay student staff, and we only promote opportunities that ensure that students are paid a fair wage.”

Of course, it’s also a tough time for businesses, but thanks to generous funding from Santander through their Santander Universities programme, our ICKG businesses can get grant support to bring on student interns. The last round of funding enabled ten students to take on roles in the centre. And quite a few of those students have proven themselves so useful that they’ve been kept on beyond the funded period. These represent some of the many “excellent success stories of students staying with the businesses on campus beyond initial internships, progressing through their careers and growing with the businesses.”

“Go for an internship! It requires some of your time but if you put the effort in the output can be multitudes higher than the cost if you put effort into it.”

What are the benefits for businesses?

Taking on new staff can be a costly risk for small businesses, so the Santander funding provides an amazing opportunity for companies to trial the process before committing to the additional cost. Jessica Anastasi, Co-Founder of Gentle Human – a sensitive skincare brand, took on two student interns – Sally and Yaw – to support their marketing development. Jess found that “working within the business forced us as founders to also learn how we want to shape teams, drive their development but also how we are as managers.” Sally has continued to form a valuable member of the team, beyond the internship period.

DAC Planning, a planning consultancy offering expert services to local authorities, brought on Asuka Onishi to work as a Planning Assistant. The company is about to extend Asuka’s contract for a second time after finding that her digital marketing knowledge and experience “helped us address a skills gap in our team”.

For Gentle Human, it wasn’t just about the skills, “Both Sally and Yaw brought outside perspectives along with their openness to learn which we hope they can take forward.”

What kinds of projects make a good internship?

Marketing is one of the most common internship projects, with a wide range of different skills and activities within that area. As Gentle Human are an early-stage startup, Sally was assigned to support innovation and market research, including “research into materials for our packaging along with driving primary research administration to set us up for our first round of R&D.” The team made use of Yaw’s creative writing background and set him to “building out our knowledge database, which will go live on our website to really build our reputation as experts in sensitive skin.”

Luke Brown is Founder and CEO of two innovative software development companies: &Element and Merlin Cloud. Luke brought in two interns – Agata and Kubra – one for each business, both “focused on learning SEO fundamentals, content creation, social media connecting and design and how to launch marketing campaigns successfully. The students have helped us plan and organise our own marketing – something which we wouldn’t have time to do otherwise. This has led to greater publicity for us and resulted in us picking up a new client which we wouldn’t have done otherwise without the interns’ work.”

While Marketing does make a great project, there are lots of different opportunities that are ideal for a student internship. Sona Insurance – a specialist insurance broker – brought in Yining Wang, a Psychology student, to help map processes and document the company’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). As Sona’s then-COO, Ricky Dzierozynski told us, “Yining has enabled us to become more organised from an operational perspective.  All of our core processes are now documented, which means we can work in a more consistent and streamlined way.”

Let’s meet some of the ICKG student interns!

Agata Wisniewska

Company:  &Element    Studying:   Final year, Cognitive Sciences

“Like many people my age, I am not quite sure what exactly I want to do after I graduate. When I saw that there is a digital marketing placement, I knew it was a perfect opportunity for me to do something I like and at the same time benefit from learning more about a professional work environment. I am considering sticking with web design in the future, so I thought this place was perfect for me to learn more about it.

I learned a lot about digital marketing and the work environment. I had clear targets for what I was supposed to do, but at the same time, I watched the whole process of working with a client and delivering a project. So, even though I played a smaller part in the project process, I had an opportunity to observe it from different angles. I think the most challenging part was managing school and work at the same time.

There are a lot of excuses you can make up to not do something. Change is scary, and we like to stick with routines, but you never know what is waiting on the other side until you try.”

Asuka Onishi

Company:  DAC Planning   Studying:  MSc, Psychology

“My career goal is to become a digital marketing specialist in the industry field that I’m passionate about, preferably town planning! I completed my internship programme as a Planning Assistant at DAC Planning. My work involved providing marketing proposals, content creation for social media and online learning materials, and other tasks.

I felt like the internship position at DAC Planning was an unmissable opportunity for me, since I have both a civil engineering background and marketing knowledge/skills. I wasn’t familiar with the UK’s town planning system, so it was challenging to input a lot of professional terms and background knowledge at first. However, the DAC team made it enjoyable by giving me a lot of autonomy in every task, which allowed me to freely propose my ideas. I’ve learned a lot – from working effectively in English to how to collaborate with teams and project progress management.”

Check out the blog post Asuka wrote about her experience.

Asuka Onishi in front of building

Sally Shayeb

Company:  Gentle Human   Studying: BSc, Business & Marketing

“Hi! I’m Sally, currently undergoing my Management and Marketing degree at the University of Essex. I’m in my first year and already feeling the buzz of the business world! Once I graduate, I’m aiming for a career that allows me to bring out my creativity in marketing, especially in the fashion industry. My journey began with Gentle Human as an intern for two months. Fast forward to present time, 3 months later, I am now their Marketing Associate/Executive.

I was especially attracted to this internship because of Jess – I knew I had a lot to learn from her. Another compelling aspect was the dynamic environment of startups, where unpredictability is the norm, providing invaluable learning opportunities for a first-time intern like me. Balancing multiple tasks and learning to prioritize effectively was a significant learning curve, but it ultimately helped me grow both personally and professionally.”

One of Sally’s latest tasks is building the brand on TikTok – check out their very first TikTok post, filmed here in ICKG!

Yining Wang

Company:  Sona Insurance   Studying: MSc, Psychology

“As an international student, experience in local corporations is essential to acknowledge my profile while hunting for a full-time job. I was so happy that this opportunity came up, as Sona’s customer-oriented business strategy aligns with my career aspirations in professional client services.

I love the team vibe in the office; everyone was supportive and warm to me as a newcomer. Also, this was the first time I could work directly with senior leadership, and I witnessed how to run a business, which was quite novel and thrilling.

My advice for other interns would be: don’t hesitate to ask questions, whether it’s about a specific task or about broader industry knowledge. Showing interest and a willingness to learn can enhance your understanding and demonstrate your enthusiasm to others.”

What’s next if you want to host a student intern?

How do I get a student intern for my own business?

Jo: “We have a whole range of ways businesses can engage with our students, from mentoring, providing internships or placements, to supporting us with industry focused events. If you would like to find out more please email the Industry Engagement and Placements Team (Industryengagement@essex.ac.uk) to set up a meeting so we can find out what your businesses needs are, and then we can consider what the best option for you is.

Anything else I need to know about providing a good internship opportunity?

Jo: “I would say things that make an internship stand out are a great leader/mentor who the students can learn from, as well as an opportunity to develop their skills (and better yet – the possibility of further opportunities in the future).”

Jess: “For businesses, you have to be willing to develop your students, give them clear direction but also allow them to grow and make mistakes – that’s how they learn. Yes it will take resource, but consider putting the person they report into as someone you want to develop management skills.”

Luke: “Go for an internship! It requires some of your time but if you put the effort in the output can be multitudes higher than the cost if you put effort into it.”

If you want to host your own University of Essex intern, contact the Careers Team for more details.

Visit the Santander Universities website if you want to find a university in your region with funded internships.

Find out more about our office space solutions, or contact us at info@innovationcentre-kg.co.uk  or 01206 405 50.

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