x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Internship hurdles are self-defeating

Work experience is increasingly important for students, but companies here are hesitant to offer unpaid work because the regulations are unclear.

The most daunting question facing most young adults is: what am I going to do with the rest of my life? And while there may be a world of opportunities out there, the reality is that it's increasingly difficult for a school or university graduate to get his or her foot on the first rung of the career ladder.

While a good education is an essential requirement for employment in many professions, there is no guarantee that degrees in most disciplines will automatically qualify candidates for jobs in related fields. It is only by immersion in the workplace that a person can truly find the perfect vocational fit.

On the other side of the equation, employers are reluctant to take on even the best and brightest graduates without knowing for sure that they will be suited to the job and to the workplace culture.

And that is where internships come in. Around the world, this "try before you buy" system has become the standard way for qualified graduates to gain much-needed work experience and for employers to assess the true value of potential job candidates in real-life situations.

In a growing and diversifying economy such as the UAE, getting the right people in the right jobs ought to be a national priority.

The good news is that a report to be published early next year by the British Council has named the UAE as the leading country in the region for policies on easing students into the workplace. The bad news is that job-placement experts say there is widespread confusion about the rules. Uncertainty surrounding a legal "grey area" means many employers are shying away from taking on interns.

As is often the case, the problem lies with the paperwork. Iba Masood, founder of the employment agency Gradberry, told The National this week that employers in free zones were especially reluctant to take on interns because it meant getting work permits for them.

While the problem is not universal - the Higher Colleges of Technology in Sharjah, for example, reports that it has had no trouble placing its students in internships - there is an urgent need to clear up any real or perceived impediment to students obtaining placements in private enterprise.

Any move that lessens the legal and bureaucratic burden on employers and gets students into internships would benefit the entire country.