MORE and more graduates are boosting their career prospects by becoming interns.

Internships are an ideal way for young people to gain experience relevant to their professional interests and skills. They provide an opportunity for students and graduates to build contacts and get a better understanding of the working world.

And, in many cases, internships can lead to permanent employment, after employers see their interns’ abilities first-hand.

They also provide businesses with a cost effective way to focus on particular areas of their work and to support young talent.

So while internships were once more common in the US than in the UK, they are now very much part of the graduate recruitment picture in this country too.

Graduate Jobs South – a specialist recruitment service based at Southampton Solent University – arranges internships with local businesses and within the university itself.

In the academic year 2010-2011, the service arranged 96 internships with local businesses, and two-thirds of those interns were subsequently offered permanent employment.

Now, as part of the Daily Echo-backed campaign to keep talent local, the university is calling on more businesses in the South to set up graduate internships and see the benefits for themselves.

“Employers tell us internships work well because they help people develop professional experience and in-depth understanding of how a company works,” says Maggie Moss, business community and graduate manager working with Graduate Jobs South.

“For the interns themselves, it’s also a great way to share and sharpen their newly-learnt skills.”

Typically, companies pay a fair wage or expenses to interns. And in this challenging economic climate, where work experience is prized by many employers, an increasing number of graduates – like Tim Speight (see case study) – have no doubt that internships are exactly what they need to gain that crucial edge over the competition.

Case study: From intern to employee

TIM Speight, left, applied for an internship at QGate, a Fareham-based company that writes and resells CRM software, in early 2012.

It was organised through Graduate Jobs South, and six months on, QGate has offered Joe a full-time position – and is about to start recruiting for another intern.

“I saw an internship as a good way to gain cost-effective resource while potentially developing a permanent role,” says Roland Dexter, QGate managing director.

“I was keen to get someone young, enthusiastic and open-minded.

It’s gone so well that we’ve offered Tim an ongoing role, and we’re about to start looking for a second internship through Graduate Jobs South.”

For Tim, a BA marketing management graduate, it’s been a chance to develop skills in areas such as search engine optimisation and web analytics.

Benefits for business

THERE are plenty of reasons for companies to launch internships.

• Support talented, enthusiastic graduates.

• Increase productivity.

• Focus on particular business needs.

• Assess potential future employees.

• Cost-effective source of labour and skills.

“QGate got in touch after I submitted my application through Graduate Jobs South,” he says, “and I went for an interview a week later.

“The next day they called to offer me the internship, so it was a really quick process.

“It’s been great, because they’ve been very open and willing to let me get hands on.

“It’s a small, warm company, and people are very keen to work together to get a good result.”

Now looking forward to working with QGate on an ongoing basis, Tim is happy to recommend internships to graduates wanting to take their first step on the career ladder.

“Internships are an education,” he says.

“They can give you a lot of knowledge and act as a stepping stone into some really fierce industries, like marketing.

“They also mean you’re being tested in the industry, and you can see if the area you’ve chosen is right for you. Taking an internship is a great way to kick-start your career."