In 2011, HAAGA-HELIA University of Applied Sciences piloted a pair internship model in which the university offersemployers interns in groups of two instead of only one student. The pair consists of a foreign degree student and a Finnish degree student. This paid internship is part of studies and spans 100 days.
The needs of employers determine what kind of students are recruited for the internships. Usually employers seek interns for projects with an international aspect. Nearly all of the HAAGA-HELIA degree programmes are participating in the pilot experiment, and therefore students from a wide range of fields are available to employers. One of the goals of the project has been to merge different areas of knowledge – knowledge on cultures as well as different disciplines.
Intern pairs have usually worked on a shared topic but not necessarily on the same assignment. Employers have given them tasks such as organizing events and conducting market research – Russia has been a particular area of interest for the employers. The tasks may supplement each other: for example, one student may work on a market survey while the other is writing a platform for its implementation.
– Scheduling is the biggest problem. Quite often the employer wants the interns fast. It is difficult to find two students who can start immediately in just a few days, says project coordinator Annariikka Martikainen-Rodriguez. This has been the main difficulty.
Annariikka hopes that employers would make long-term plans when collaborating with HEIs.
The pair internship model has been marketed to companies in connection with regular employer marketing.
– Employer feedback has been very positive, Annariikka says.
Then again, not all employers have embraced the idea. Some have experienced difficulties in placing two interns simultaneously in the office and instructing both. Consequently, the model has been further developed so that the intern pair works in R&D projects carried out with employers and coordinated by HAAGA-HELIA.
At present, enterprises have employed more than 20 pairs.
Especially the internship supervisor’s workload has decreased, since the foreign degree student now has a partner that can provide him or her information regarding Finnish work culture and practices such as taxation. The Finnish student acts as a peer instructor on Finnish practices. Correspondingly, the foreign degree student’s expertise on his or her own cultural context is usually put to use, too. Working together physically is an advantage although some pairs have worked independently from each other.
– If you have a question, contacting a partner student who works far away may be easier than consulting the employer, Annariikka points out.
Students have given only positive feedback on the pilot project. Some intern partners have even become friends. Unlike in normal internships, the pairs are offered a day-long meeting before the beginning of the internship period. This meeting can be very informal, as the goal is to get to know one’s internship partner. The meeting should include discussions on everyday topics under the guidance of an instructor. Working with a foreign degree student gives the Finnish student international experience. At the same time, the foreign degree student gains important Finnish work experience and contacts.
Workplace supervision has been slightly more intensive than in normal practical training, and teachers have chatted with interns for example in school hallways. Employer contact has been more intensive as well, with the learning institution following the progress of the internship closely.
Encountered problems have mostly focused on work experiences rather than on the pair internship itself. Young students always find their first work experiences challenging, as they are still unfamiliar with the practices of working life.
Annariikka believes that establishing the pair internship model would also establish routines that would help solve these problems more efficiently.
– Routines would also reduce scheduling problems.
And once the employers become familiar with the concept, HEIs hope that long-term operative plans regarding internships become more common in enterprises as well.!