Can internships prepare graduates for jobs that don’t yet exist?

By Lara Hardy, Online Student Support Officer, Off-campus Programs, Centre for Open Education

When a baby born today graduates from university in approximately 23 years’ time, the jobs they apply for may not even exist today.

With positions such as bank tellers, travel agents, cashiers, posties, and print journalists likely facing extinction by 2034, Associate Professor Elisabetta Magnani, of the Australian Business School at the University of New South Wales, says that with future changes in technology, the human traits of “compassion and intelligence” will be required to distinguish a person in their field in order to make sure they are perceived as “necessary” in the workforce.

Dan Pink in A Whole New Mind attributes this need to an increasing shift from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, where right-brained attributes such as inventiveness, story-telling ability, empathy and playfulness now dominate. The increasing casualisation of the workforce means that a worker’s ability to secure some sort of job security depends upon them adding something of substantial value to the role – this “people power” at its most basic level being the ability to use their emotional intelligence to network and create “personal capital” which makes them much more crucial to the organisation.

So how do we ensure today’s graduates are able to distinguish themselves in such a way, by learning these kinds of skills throughout their degrees?

Activities both within and outside degree programs which complement formal curriculum, such as reflective activities (these can involve but not necessarily be limited to writing exercises), social learning (both face-to-face and online), involvement in university groups, and community-based internships such as undertaking PACE units, can all contribute to graduates building a suite of skills which they can effectively transfer to the workforce (and enhance once they get there). Internships in particular can be of value in helping students develop “soft skills” such as networking ability, teamwork skills, general commercial acumen and the ability to demonstrate initiative (Dunstan, 2009), as well as the opportunity to gain a more practical understanding of the theoretical knowledge which underpins their degree programs (Hynie, 2011).

The Institute for the Future at the University of Phoenix Research Institute, an independent, not-for-profit strategic research group with more than 40 years of forecasting experience, highlights the following 10 skills critical for success in the future workforce:

  • Sense-making – ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed
  • Social intelligence – ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions
  • Novel and adaptive thinking – proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond those which are rote or rule-based
  • Cross-cultural competency – ability to operate in different cultural settings
  • Computational thinking – ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning
  • New-media literacy – ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication
  • Transdisciplinarity – literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines
  • Design mindset – ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes
  • Cognitive load management – ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximise cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques
  • Virtual collaboration – ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team

Alan Noble, Engineering Director at Google Australia, says we need to “equip our young people to be creators, not just consumers, of technology”. Formal frameworks such as the Graduate Capabilities framework provide a structure for how programs can be designed around these kinds of future work skills. How else can we ensure these skills are integrated into our programs in order to generate graduates who become such creators?


Dunstan, Rebecca, “The value of internships and placements”, Education + Training, Vol. 51 No. 3, 2009

Hynie, Michaela et. al., “Student internships bridge research to real world problems, Education + Training, Vol. 52 No. 2/3, 2011, pp. 237-248 at 237



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