Breaking Down the World of Work

Breaking Down the World of Work

In the 21st-century employment market, companies are demanding skills that go beyond the three R’s – Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic. In fact, it is an over-reliance on rote learning and classroom instruction that has resulted in an enormous ‘skills gap’ across the globe.

“According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, nearly half the subject knowledge learned during the first year of a four-year technical degree will be outdated by the time a student graduates, with practical skill-sets also subject to increasing change and disruption. Recruiters are likely to [shift their focus to] ‘soft skills’…. like risk-taking, fairness, curiosity and problem-solving.” Trends in graduate recruitment – what to expect in the next 5 years

While foundational skills are critical to impart in the early years of school, the focus of high school and college educators should also be on developing skills such as problem-solving, collaboration, media literacy, communication, and critical thinking. These kinds of abilities are often best honed through activities beyond the classroom. By combining fact-based education with real-world experience, an individual’s potential can be unlocked, and companies and communities can thrive.

As you embark on your higher education and career journey, there are several ways to gain practical experience. But, before exploring your options, it is important to have clarity on your goals. It could be that you are seeking to practically apply what you have learned in the classroom, or join a highly-skilled trade that requires deep technical knowledge, or perhaps you want to understand what a day in the life of a professional entails. No matter your objective, there are a range of options to consider.

Internship. An internship helps you learn the basics of how a particular industry functions and what a specific role within it entails. You can also get a peek at how your career trajectory may pan out in the long run, and what a company’s work culture is like. Internships are a great chance to analyze your options and make an informed career decision when it comes to pursuing full time, regular employment. Internships can be paid or unpaid; if unpaid, there may be a stipend offered to cover housing or transportation costs. Internships are usually for short durations, from one to three months.

“Internships are paid or unpaid term-based assignments, ideal for undergraduate and graduate students, and young professionals. Sectors in which internships are often offered include banking, consulting, media or technology.” Leena Pandit, Canadian Education Expert

Externship. The concept of an externship is most common in the medical, legal or other professional fields, where job shadowing is a key part of early training. Externships are generally unpaid and for briefer periods (e.g., one week or ten days) than internships. Since externs are only observing, they rarely have specific work or projects delegated to them.

“Externships are often the result of partnerships between educational organizations and practice-based environments, which provide experiential learning in a specific field.” Neema Mehta, Global Organizational Design and Talent Leader

Cooperative Education (“Co-op”). Co-ops are multi-term work programmes built into a university curriculum, designed to help students gain hands-on experience in a particular specialization. Co-ops are common in industries like engineering, healthcare, and business, wherein the student studies one term and works the next and continues to alternate this theory-application framework for the duration of their studies. Since the work component is a required part of the graduation requirements, students earn credit for their co-op terms. If lucky, they may also be paid.

“Through co-ops, students work a semester at a time and then return to school, where they get course credit for their work. Generally, in a co-op-based programme, it can take five to six years (as opposed to the usual four) to complete undergraduate studies. On the flip side, students in such programs have great work experience and can command higher pay when they graduate.” Libby Sartain, Board Director at Manpower Group, Shutterfly, AARP;
former CHRO Yahoo Inc. and Southwest Airlines

Apprenticeships. These are training periods undertaken by those entering a skilled trade such as carpentry, welding, or artistry, and with tradespersons such as electricians, plumbers and beauticians. Apprenticeships are often part of licensed vocational education and technical training programmes that include classroom instruction and practical application. In many European countries, students enter formal apprenticeship programs at age 18 and train for between one and four years, depending on the level of the program, the apprentice’s ability and the industry sector. Apprenticeships are paid, but the amount is minimal.

“Apprenticeships are structured, entry-level roles associated with skilled trades, which do not require college, but do require training, education, and licensing.” Libby Sartain, Board Director at Manpower Group, Shutterfly, AARP;
former CHRO Yahoo Inc. and Southwest Airlines

“Apprenticeships are a combination of on-the-job and classroom training that result in a trade credential, which proves that you are qualified and certified to work in a skilled trade.” Leena Pandit, Canadian Education Expert

Fellowship. Traditionally, ‘fellows’ are highly-trained academics who have distinguished positions within a university setting, or are well-regarded experts within an industry. Fellows work on specific projects within an organization and are often sponsored.

Recently, organizations have started offering fellowship programs that are focused on intensive professional development in a particular field. For example, The Young India Fellowship (YIF), is a one-year residential multi-disciplinary postgraduate programme that provides liberal arts education with a focus on experiential learning. Indian citizens under the age of 29 with an undergraduate or a postgraduate degree are eligible to apply for this highly selective fellowship.

“Fellowships are usually coveted, prestigious positions associating with extensive training and education.” Neema Mehta, Global Organizational Design and Talent Leader

Volunteer. Volunteering with a not-for-profit organization allows you to gain a deeper understanding of the social, economic, and political factors influencing the world today. As a volunteer, you can get involved with the community, and see what it is like to collaborate with a wide variety of stakeholders who are working together to solve a problem and make an impact. These opportunities also allow you to develop leadership skills and network with professionals in the ecosystem.

“Volunteering is a great way to pursue your interests and hobbies, while also using the time to travel within the country or internationally. These experiences will help shape your perspective and enable you to understand yourself better. A volunteer experience can boost your resume and sometimes help you clarify the career path you want to pursue.” Leena Pandit, Canadian Education Expert

Traineeship. Engineering, management or sales trainees – these are positions created exclusively to nurture and prepare recent graduates for specific roles within an organization. Trainees are full-time employees, on a normal salary, who are hired into a ‘class’ of fresh university graduates for a structured training programme. Depending on the industry, firm and location, trainees frequently compete with their peers for placement into different roles upon completion of the programme.

“Investment banks, consulting firms, consumer goods companies and other large global organizations formally train their new hires so that they all approach delivery of products and services in a uniform and consistent manner that aligns with the organization’s vision, mission and operating philosophy.” Neema Mehta, Global Organizational Design and Talent Leader

Work experience. Work experience involves securing paid employment that may be temporary, contract-based, or long-term. The objective is not necessarily career development (although it can be), but instead to earn money and gain formal experience in the workforce. When compared to the other opportunities, work experience entails taking on more responsibilities, often while reporting to supervisors who oversee deadlines, productivity and quality of work. Gaining formal work experience is critical to personal growth – it helps young people learn responsibility and accountability in a setting other than school or home. For students, some options may include working behind the counter at an ice cream shop over the summer, tutoring neighbourhood kids or staffing the desk at a local library.

“Summer or other jobs are structured, part/full-time paid work experiences that pay market rates, and are critical to the organization’s functioning.” Neema Mehta, Global Organizational Design and Talent Leader

Students, recent graduates and even experienced professionals can, and should, access these options at various points in their career development, depending on their goals, financial situation and academic training. If you are still studying, your college or school’s career services office may also maintain a list of employers seeking talent at different levels. And, while many organizations share information on their websites and on social media networks like LinkedIn, often the best way to create opportunities for yourself is to reach out to your network of contacts – friends, classmates, aunts, uncles, parents’ friends, friends’ parents – and proactively ask about opportunities to gain formal, practical experience. Once you narrow down your choices, pick the option that is most suitable for you, given your existing level of experience and goals, and then jump right in to keep learning.

Kavita Mehta
Kavita Mehta Kavita Mehta is a thought leader at the intersection of education, skill-building, technology and impact. Her 25-year career across financial services, digital media and entrepreneurship is firmly grounded in her belief that education is a right, not a privilege. Her focus on mentorship empowers others to magnify impact and increase confidence through a keen awareness of their own potential. She is the founder of Caymus Technology Ventures, co-founder of The Red Pen and author of Acing Admissions, published by HarperCollins.