How NZ’s Summer of Tech IT internships work

An oversupply of students are keen to take on tech internships over the summer holidays.

summer of tech interns may 2014
Summer of tech

There are 19,000 students in New Zealand studying IT, but only a small percentage of them are likely to participate in relevant work experience before they graduate. That’s the finding from Summer of Tech, a charity that for the past 14 years has been matching students with employers for assignments over the summer break.

Summer of Tech CEO Trent Mankelow said that more than 2,000 students participated in the programme in 2019, with 350 getting placed at about 100 employees. That’s equates to about one successful applicant for every six or seven that apply.

While the odds aren’t stacked in the student’s favour, it is a positive ratio for employers that are open to taking on interns for the November-to-February break. Internships often lead to permanent employment—in the 2019 intake, 73% of summer interns were retained in either a part-time or full-time capacity.

trent mankelow summer of tech profile Summer of Tech

Trent Mankelow, CEO, Summer of Tech

Mankelow described the programme as a “try before you buy” scheme, whereby employers get the opportunity to test out future employees in a low-risk environment. They also receive interns who have been put through their paces, from applying online to taking part in boot camps that teach technical skills as well as ‘soft skills’, which they are rebranding as ‘core skills’. The latter includes how to write a CV, be successful in networking and negotiating, and practice good time management.

Prospects for hiring interns are low

Mankelow described the programme as a “lopsided marketplace”—with many more students than employers. This is unlikely to change given the current economic climate. Of 223 organisations surveyed, only 31% intend to hire this year and 49% stating they won’t hire. And of 73 employers that participated in the programme in 2019, 52% will hire interns this year, 21% won’t be participating and the remainder are unsure.

The data shows that large employers expect to either reduce the number of interns they will take on, or not participate at all, while smaller organisations appear more willing to hire interns.

A 2018 survey of 396 tech employers by the Digital Skills Forum found three common reasons why employers don’t take on interns:

  • lack of time/resources to properly support interns
  • cost
  • not having suitable work for interns

Mankelow countered these objections by pointing out that Summer of Tech find and trains interns who provide huge value to their organisations.

With 30 jobs for the upcoming summer currently on its books, Mankelow is keen to hear from prospective employees. It costs $500 to register for the programme, which Mankelow said is a way to get rid of the tyre-kickers. The success fee when an intern is placed varies according to the size of the organisation and is up to $2000. It is the employer’s contribution which funds 75% of Summer of Tech, with the remaining 25% made up from sponsorship.

How the internship program works

The students are vetted, but so too are the employers, and Mankelow said it’s important that interns are exposed to meaningful work and aren’t employed to “get the coffee and do the photocopying”.

The average wage paid to a student intern is $23.67 per hour, and it ranges from $18 per hour to $32 per hour. Employers can apply for Callaghan Innovation grants that fund students working on R&D projects. There is advocacy from organisations such as NZ Tech and IT Professionals for overt government funding for the internships, but Mankelow said it’s important for the employer to also contribute.

“What I’m not so keen on is the idea of it being free because I think you value what you pay for, and if we were getting to the point where it was going to cost you [employer] nothing at all, I think that probably we might end up with students getting mistreated,” he said.

Although Auckland and Wellington are the main centres of employment, Mankelow said that companies in provincial centres are showing an interest. In Nelson, a group of companies come together to participate in Summer of Tech. They collectively take on a cohort of students and, while they work for different businesses, they are treated as one group that is well catered to with social events such as barbecues put on over the summer. “It’s a great sales pitch, come to Nelson for the summer, although they don’t want to be just selling Nelson on the weather, they want to make the point that you can have a vibrant, interesting career. Not just go surfing or whatever,” Mankelow said.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the boot camps online, which Mankelow said has been an eye-opener. Sessions that in a face-to-face environment took an hour were extended to three hours online as the facilitators dealt with 500 comments and questions via the Slack channel. “The online sessions are so rich in terms of that interactivity. We really care a lot of about diversity and inclusion, so there are a lot of advantages. If you are an introvert maybe you’re not going to be putting your hand up in a lecture theatre but on Slack those introverts have more of an equal opportunity.”

How many boot camps prospective interns attend is just one of the data points available to employers. The profiles of each student applicant include a CV, academic record, LinkedIn and GitHub profile and, if relevant, design portfolio. They also have to rate themselves against 170 skills that have been suggested by employers. All applications are reviewed by the Summer of Tech team before going live to ensure that the students—who may be applying for a professional role for the very first time—are putting their best foot forward.

“We have a few funny stories as you can imagine with students doing this kind of thing for the first time. One we had said ‘great personal hygiene’ and we were like, ‘Don’t put that in your profile—they’ll think the opposite if they read that’. Or a student who is a kick boxer and the photo is of him with his shirt off, kickboxing the camera. So we give feedback on that sort of thing,” Mankelow said.

Summer of Tech takes active steps to combat unconscious bias, so profiles don’t have photographs or names in the first instance, but Mankelow said that as the employer digs deeper into the application, information will soon reveal the gender and ethnicity of the applicant. Even so, Summer of Tech interns are more than 40% non-male, which beats the industry average of 30 percent.

“Unfortunately, to our shame, while a third of our students are international students, only 15% of interns are international students,” Mankelow said.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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