One of the conundrums young people face when preparing to enter today’s ultra-competitive job market is the lack of experience. And with unemployment rates among the youth in the MENA being almost twice the global average, things are even tougher for new entrants into the job market in this part of the world.

Employers rely heavily on resumes that illustrate a relevant background or work history, and this is where having completed a formal internship while in high school or college can make the difference between success and failure. “Starting a career has never been harder; internships and traineeships help the youth use their own individual set of skills and ambitions to get their feet onto the first rung of the career ladder,” says Jean Michel Gauthier, CEO and co-founder of career platform Oliv (formerly InternsME). “Opportunities like these empower young communities, and help businesses hire the best emerging talent to grow, maintain a healthy talent pipeline, and reduce staff turnover.” Oliv sees a growing number of companies across industries embracing internship programmes. The obvious exception is the medical sector since it is heavily regulated


In the UAE, companies such as Sephora, Emaar, Danzas and Omnicom are well known for having comprehensive schemes for students trying to get a foot on the ladder. Zabeen Ahmed, founder of UAE consultancy Sevia, advises companies on best practices in recruitment and training. She says it’s important for students today to have real world experience. “While learning in an academic setting does in theory prepare individuals, it’s essentially not valid until they have the chance to apply what they know out there in the corporate landscape,” she said. “That is why an internship is absolutely critical for a student to secure before they start job hunting. They need to understand what it’s like to be in a workplace, how office dynamics play out, what the expectations are, what professionalism looks like and so on. Also, it’s good to know what they do and don’t like, or what their own weaknesses are so they can work on them.” She added: “In my experience I have seen students or graduates that haven’t done an internship really struggle when they are suddenly thrown into the deep end. This can knock their confidence for years and leave them feeling vulnerable.” US human resources guru Penny Loretto has written much on the importance of intern programmes — and stresses the value for the companies involved. “Anytime you talk business with someone outside of your industry, team, or day-to-day operations, you’re often surprisingly inspired by what you learn,” she wrote. “The same goes for an internship program. By bringing in students who aren’t inside your company every day, they can offer a fresh perspective on your business, strategies, and plans. To experience these benefits, make sure to include interns in brainstorm sessions and encourage them to speak up in meetings. Attending brainstorms is often a favourite among interns, so it’s a win-win for both parties.”

My life as an intern: Naimah Abbas, 22

Marketing trainee with Colgate I spent six months looking for an opportunity right after I graduated, and I just wasn’t finding the right opportunity. I was aiming to gain experience at an MNC, but a lot of them tend not to take a chance on fresh graduates for full-time roles. I figured that getting experience through an internship was just as valuable as a full-time job, so I went ahead searching for internships instead. Interning at Colgate has been a great opportunity. I really love it here because I’m learning a lot and it doesn’t feel like an internship. My manager is amazing and I’ve been given real responsibilities and tasks — I get to tap into projects that an Assistant Brand Manager would be doing. I’m working on the Oral Care line, supporting with artwork, portfolio management and so on. I even managed my first solo project; I was responsible for organising and running an internal product launch for the whole team. I got to take on the accounting, agency liaison, and creative sides of the project among other areas. I thought it would be best to venture into a large MNC to get my foothold into the industry and get the experience I needed before my first, full-time role — but not all internships turn out like that. I’m hoping this turns into a full-time role, but I can also utilise this experience to pursue an entry-level marketing specialist or coordinator role.