Dubai: Enabling students to find their career path is not vested in the tomorrows. It is in the here and now. And universities in the UAE understand only too well the importance of converting learning into an employable asset for their students for a seamless integration with the national workforce amid rapid redefinitions of careers driven by technology. What gives a university an edge in the recruitment domain is how thoroughly it prepares its students for an internship.

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Orsi Urban, a career services and cooperative education manager at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

Orsi Urban, a career services and cooperative education manager at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Dubai, says internships and their outcomes depend on many factors.

“The student, who is eager and ready to learn; professors to prepare students’ technical and job relevant skills, Career Services to support students’ development and to build and maintain industry relations; and the culture and dedication of the hosting employer, including the coaching and mentorship the direct line managers offer.”

WHY GRADUATE PLACEMENTS ARE IMPORTANT

The UAE, says Urban, places a higher focus upon graduate placements and measuring them, which is a great advancement.

“After all, higher education is not just about earning a degree, but being enriched with the knowledge, experience, innovation and creativity to succeed in the global job market. This all starts with internships and job market immersion of the forthcoming generations,” he says.

Professor Mohammad Salem, president of the University of Wollongong in Dubai, says students see higher education as an investment in their future.

The major shift, says Salem, is an emphasis on [finding the right] career path, rather than on just earning degrees. “In this context, internships are only one piece of the puzzle. We start at the very beginning with our students to ensure that the degree they choose has a demand from industry.”

INTERNSHIP IS A SERIOUS RESPONSIBILITY

The internship prep of a student is a serious responsibility, say these educators. It is the precursor to sending them out in the world fully prepared to engage with it.

“Dubai places a high emphasis on experiential learning,” says Urban.

“And part of this student journey at RIT is a 3-12 months extensive, full-time internship, the Cooperative Education programme. Throughout this extensive work experience, students are exposed to different positions and work environments for the successful transition from university to full-time careers.”

The career preparation course is mandatory for every second year student at RIT Dubai, he adds. “The curriculum of this course is co-designed with the help of industry. Students are exposed to the traditional CV writing and interview skills and the course also allows them to understand the importance of professionalism, ethics, design thinking and growth mindset.”

The duration of the extensive internship depends on the [subject] major, explains Urban. For example, “engineering students are required to complete one year, computing and computing security students six months, and business students three months of full-time, relevant work experience. Preparation starts at second year, which is an ideal time: students still have some time until third year when the internship cycles start.”

JOB PLACEMENTS FOR GRADUATES

At the University of Wollongong Dubai, with its [job] placement rates for undergraduates at 77 per cent and post-graduates at 85 per cent, within six months of graduation, students are integrated into workshops at the beginning of their programme.

“We prepare them with a career map and give them access to employability workshops as soon as they enrol,” says Salem.

“We provide access to an exclusive online recruitment website and our dedicated Career Development Centre has sent out over 11,000 CVs to date. In 2019, 55 companies exhibited at the UOWD annual Career Fair, with more than 460 companies advertising positions with UOWD this year,” he says.

Many of their degree programmes, he says, have been formally recognised by international professional organisations. “This means that students are following a curriculum that is driven towards employment.

HITS AND MISSES

While a high rate of intern conversion to employees is a foundational ambition for a university, there are misses.

“Just as with any job placements, internships are about humans interacting with each other. It is very rare, but it happens, that the student is not the right fit for the given team,” says Urban. “This is a valuable learning curve for all stakeholders involved: the intern, hiring department and the university itself.”

It is also possible, he says, that a company highly values the skills of an intern but does not have the head count leeway to absorb them as full-time employees.

“So, the transition depends on timing and market circumstances as well,” says Urban.

According to Salem, “Sometimes, a student is unable to see the job through; or in some cases, companies are unable to provide direction to the intern. Students sometimes leave because there is no advancement plan within the organisation. In such instances, career advisers are equipped to counsel students on how to proceed.

“We do understand that unfavourable situations might occur, which is also why we prepare our students on basic career etiquette. Students are young and might make decisions that hamper their learning opportunity, but this happens very rarely,” he says.