As current student Tanya Harrington’s (Media, Journalism and Culture 2016-) internship with Cymorth Cymru came to an end, we caught up with the organisation’s Policy & External Affairs Manager Oliver Townsend (BSc 2011) about his experiences of offering workplace opportunity to the next generation of Cardiff alum.
As a Cardiff graduate, I have been proud to be able to offer a paid internship opportunity through the Santander and Cardiff University scheme for three years now. I really benefited from being able to volunteer when I was at the university, and it has been a hugely important part of Cymorth’s values that we give young people the same opportunities we have had – but to also ensure they are fairly reimbursed for their time as well.
Three years ago, we were looking for a way to increase the capacity of our organisation to deliver a national campaign to raise awareness of funding for vulnerable people. As a small team of six employees, this was incredibly important to us. The idea of an intern came up in discussion, and we decided to work with the university to find a way of running the programme for a year.
It worked really well. Our first intern was a delight to work with (as they have all been!) and helped shape the programme for future years for us just as much as we did. From the outset, I wanted to be very clear that the internship was equally about their development and what they wanted, as it was about what we hoped to gain from them.
I took a decision very quickly that we would run the internship exactly as if they were a full-time member of staff, with regular one to ones, workplan meetings and clear targets – for both the intern and for myself. I asked our intern what she wanted to aim for, both as a career and during the placement, and I made sure I held myself accountable to deliver just that.
Having an intern in our organisation has been hugely positive and challenging for our organisation. When I say it has been challenging, I don’t mean in a traditional sense that it has been difficult. I mean that it has, quite literally, challenged the way we work and suggested new ways we can approach tasks. It has given other members of staff confidence as they have each mentored and supported the interns within their field of work.
But also, the way in which students, either straight from university, or still within university, see the world gives a very different perspective. It is very easy when you are at a day job time and time again, sometimes fighting the same battles just with different people, to become jaded. To see the enjoyment and excitement that interns have gained from the campaigns we have run has often helped restore my own enthusiasm sometimes – that maybe it is worth it after all.
Quite simply, our campaigns would have failed without the support of our respective interns.
I believe it is vital to encourage alumni to offer internships – as paid, meaningful work. It connects us to other generations, it keeps ideas fresh, it challenges the way we work, it reminds us why we do what we do, it certainly has changed the way I work with people. Each of the three interns we have worked with have taught me an incredible amount, and I would recommend the programme in a heartbeat.