“Informal learning” outside the classroom is key to clinching a good first job

AIESEC, a successful model for international internships and work experience, helps students and graduates learn valuable leadership skills to bridge the school-work divide.

For today’s students, acquiring the skills and knowledge to operate in a global economy is vital. Classroom learning is no longer sufficient preparation for most professions. To be attractive to fast-paced global organizations, young people need real-world experience, leadership skills and a global mindset by the time they graduate.

The best way to gain all three is by working in a foreign culture – outside your comfort zone – where every day brings challenges, problem-solving and personal growth. AIESEC, a global youth network for leadership development, offers that experience by placing students and graduates in international internships with companies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

AIESEC International team in Rotterdam, AIESEC Headquarter

AIESEC International team in Rotterdam, AIESEC Headquarter

Far-flung assignments range from information technology internships in India to public service work at a hospital in Colombia. AIESEC, the world’s largest student-driven organization, now places an average of 5,500 interns across borders a year – and in the fiscal year ending June 30, the goal is to reach 7,000 professional internships on top of the 15,000 global volunteer positions AIESEC offers to students in collaboration with NGOs and civil societies world-wide.

Our main goal is not to find jobs for students, but to create the opportunity for our members to have a highly meaningful work experience abroad and build leadership skills, which ultimately does make them attractive to employers. Problem solving in a different culture helps build cross-cultural skills, self-knowledge and leadership ability. Those abilities are in particularly high demand by employers large and small, around the world.

How does the AIESEC model work? We ensure members develop a global mindset and embrace pro-active learning. Those are the top two reasons businesses and global organizations collaborate with us. A global mindset and proactive learning are two of the five competences that AIESEC seeks to develop in its members. The other three are an entrepreneurial outlook, social responsibility and emotional intelligence. Together, they make for an ideal intern and attractive future employee. That’s why our global partners such as Alcatel Lucent, DP DHL, PwC, ING, UBS, Electrolux and Microsoft take a steady stream of AIESEC interns and ultimately do hire many interns for full-time jobs.

One of our latest initiatives is to help bridge the gap in supply and demand of information technology and engineering talent. The gap is particularly large in Europe, where companies are seeking IT experts and engineers who can manage their businesses. Electrolux could fill 100 engineering positions tomorrow if they had the right supply of talent. So we’ve begun reaching out to potential partner organizations at universities with key IT and engineering talent to attract students from both fields. Our goal is to raise awareness about what international development can mean for the careers of IT specialists and engineers.

The information technology programme is already started to have impact. In 2011-2012, AIESEC recruited almost 2000 new IT intern candidates and in 2012-2013 we are aiming for 2500. The engineering programme, which began in 2012, has recruited 1000 engineers for internships over the past year, up from an average 200 a year. Our target for 2015 is to grow the pool to 3000 engineers and 5000 IT interns.

And to help develop management skills in IT students and engineers, AIESEC is expanding its collaboration with NGOs in developing countries. Engineering students might land environmental internships helping bring clean water to villages in Africa. And IT experts might develop a management database for a hospital in Colombia. At the end of the day, business in the 21st Century is also about values and contributing something to helping solve the world’s problems – and young people need to understand that.

AIESEC was founded by seven European in 1948 as a cultural exchange programme to help support reconciliation after World War II, sending students to live in other countries. As it grew, international work experience was in high demand and the organization shifted its focus to internships abroad. Membership is open to students and graduates from age 18 to 30.