How a sustainable internship programme can support social mobility

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds can remain on the back foot when entering the workforce. This programme offers higher education practitioners a replicable model that includes professional skills development and access



Dublin City University
27 Oct 2022
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Sustainable internship programme

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Educational and socio-economic disadvantage does not end when students enter the gates of our universities. Just as creating alternate pathways and access routes into higher education is fundamental for lowering barriers for non-traditional and widening participation (WP) students, we also know some students need support upon entry into employment.

The earnings gap between graduates from low and high socio-economic status communities is well documented in the UK. Similarly, in an Irish context, graduates from disadvantaged communities earn less than their peers from more affluent areas, even when all other factors are equal after graduation, according to a 2020 Higher Education Authority analysis. Against this backdrop, Dublin City University (DCU) developed a student-centred internship programme to address the earnings gap experienced by students from disadvantaged backgrounds early on in their educational/career journey to support their employability and social mobility.

DCU’s Access to the Workplace programme is a collaborative WP programme with an innovative philanthropic aspect, which provides students with fully paid summer employment in established corporations. A programme of its kind not only supports students in developing their professional networks and social capital but contributes to the diversity, inclusion and corporate social responsibility agendas of many 21st-century workplaces. These workplaces realise that it is necessary to have a workforce that reflects today’s diverse society.

How does the Access to the Workplace programme work?

 Student process

Corporate donor/employer process

Submit online application

  • Student applies online, outlining their programme of study, industry interest, skills and qualifications
  • Programme coordinator (PC) uses this information to facilitate the “matching process”

Online application and philanthropic donation to WP programme

  • Employer applies to participate in the programme and makes a minimum financial donation to the university to support WP initiatives

Prepare and submit CV

  • Student receives professional support to submit professional CV to PC
  • Also used to aid student/employer matching process

Submit online employer requirements form

  • Employer completes the form, specifying preferred programme of study, skills and competencies required for the summer internship
  • Specific role information collected, including location, hours of work and department in which student will be placed
  • Also used to aid student/employer matching process

Participate in tailored work readiness programme

  • Design and deliver student workshops to support the transition into the professional workplace, including effective communication, professional workplace etiquette, how to dress in the workplace, interview skills and preparation
  • This aspect of the programme acknowledges the limited exposure WP students may have to professional workplaces

Participate in employer engagement programme

  • It is important to equip employers with the relevant knowledge and skills so they can successfully engage in the programme and adequately “on-board” a WP student for their internship
  • DCU design and deliver bespoke workshops, tailored to employer needs, including workshops on topics such as ”what is WP”,  and “how to be fully inclusive of neurodiverse employees”

Matched with a suitable employer

  • Using all the information gathered on student application forms, mock interviews  and the Employer Requirements Form, the PC matches a WP student with an appropriate employer
  • Consultation with employer and student to ensure both parties are satisfied with this match
  • This process may need to be repeated if student/employer needs are not met

Matched with a suitable student

  • Using all the information gathered on student application forms, mock interviews and the employer requirements form, the PC matches a WP student with an appropriate employer
  • Consultation with employer and student to ensure both parties are satisfied with this match
  • This process may need to be repeated if student/employer needs are not met

Commence 4- to 12-week internship

  • Student undertakes paid internship
  • PC checks in with the student throughout the internship to provide necessary support

Provide fully paid summer internship

  • Employer offers paid internship to student
  • Student is a full-time employee for the duration of the internship; all relevant employee policies and procedures apply
  • Internal member of staff from organisation appointed as the student’s mentor to provide support throughout internship

Participate in programme evaluation

  • Student feedback gathered to assist with ongoing programme development

Participate in programme evaluation

  • Employer feedback gathered to assist with ongoing programme development

Key tips for success and replication

  • Strategically align your project with the overall university strategy.
  • Create a clear, concise project plan.
  • Appoint a committed team with WP, higher education and corporate expertise.
  • Develop step-by-step guides and timelines for students and employers.
  • Provide resources to support students and employers, such as the Virtual Internship Toolkit and Introduction to Access to the Workplace video.
  • Create opportunities for employers to engage with the WP cohort, such as presentations, events and mentorship programmes.

If you would like to find out more about DCU’s Access to the Workplace programme, please contact accesstotheworkplace@dcu.ie or visit our website.

Fiona Hudson and Inís Fitzpatrick are DCU Access to the Workplace programme coordinators and Cathy Mcloughlin is head of service in the access service department, all at Dublin City University.

DCU’s Access to the Workplace has been shortlisted for Widening Participation or Outreach Initiative of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards 2022. A full list of shortlisted candidates can be found here.

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