A new intern scheme seeks to foster crucial IT skills using practical experience. By Liz Morrell

As online retailing becomes an ever more crucial part of retailers’ everyday operations, the need for online skills also increases. And yet many retailers still bemoan the lack of IT skills of graduates and struggle to find the new talent to drive this side of their businesses.

However, a pilot scheme launched last month by e-Skills UK – also known as the Sector Skills Council for Business and Information Technology – could change all that. It has formed the e-skills internship – an industry-backed student placement programme designed to raise the employability of graduates. It is in the pilot phase ahead of a full launch late next year.

During the programme, graduates work for a company in a year-long placement developing skills and capabilities ready for future employment. The internship is clearly structured, with defined roles and responsibilities established for employers, universities and students alike. Monthly progress meetings ensure the student is on track to develop the skills expected of them and they receive a completion certificate that summarises the skills they have developed.

Major companies such as British Airways and P&G have already signed up to the scheme but to date no retailers. However, Karen Price, chief executive officer for e-skills UK says the organisation is in discussions with a number of retailers interested in participating.

Price says the scheme offers a number of benefits for the retail sector – especially now when existing IT teams may have been reduced because of the economic situation.

Independent ecommerce consultant Martin Newman, former head of ecommerce for retailers such as Ted Baker, says: “Many people in the ecommerce world have grown up on the job. Being able to bring in a level of structure of people that have gone down the theory route can only be a good thing,” he says.

Price adds the internships can provide valuable new ideas. “The internships offers a fixed-term injection of fresh talent and technical expertise that is ideal for tackling short term IT projects,” she says.

Christian Robinson, managing director of online retailer Firebox.com adds that internships are useful because it brings a fresh perspective to the business. He says: “We have only recently opened our eyes to internships but every department in our business could benefit from working with interns. The people that put themselves forward are typically proactive and those are exactly the sort of people we want.”

How to help Interns

The responsibilities of retailers involved in the internship programme:

  • Maintain communication with the university to provide consistent and appropriate information before and during a placement
  • Provide a comprehensive induction to the company
  • Hold upfront planning with the student and university to define a structured programme
  • Provide an issue resolution process
  • Provide structured support
  • Hold regular progress reviews each month

Source: e-skills internship Best Practice and Learning Outcomes