Sandy Kennedy: Internships are a vital way to unlock potential

“OUR ability to develop the human skills in our young people will be a defining factor for Scotland in the long term. These human skills are vital: creativity, communication, self-awareness, resilience, finding purpose and the entrepreneurial mindset. Vital right now and critical for the leaders of the future.”

Andy Lothian, chief executive of The Insights Group, would know.

He founded Insights in 1993 anchored on the belief that if people better understand themselves, they build better organisations and become better leaders. Still based in Dundee they now operate in 49 countries and have delivered insight to four million people. Insights is another extraordinary entrepreneurial success story creating quality jobs here in Scotland.

The good news is that we have some outstanding raw material. Nisha Middleton, just graduated from University of Strathclyde, interned in 2019 as a Saltire Scholar with That’s Nice, the Fifth Avenue science marketing agency. Speaking with Nigel Walker last week, he commented unprompted that Nisha was the best intern they have ever had. Of 65 interns drawn across the Ivy League in the US, Nisha from Bute was the best.

Another Scholar, Conor Teahan, spent this summer understanding the challenges of patient groups in the Balkans with heart disease using social media. Using his innate digital skills, Conor was able to gain fresh perspective on a chronic problem.

His internship with Edwards Life Sciences was only possible with the support and leadership of GlobalScot Adrian Brannan. Adrian may live in Geneva, be vice president for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Canada, yet he went to Holyrood Secondary in Govanhill. Adrian knows first hand how important it is to give the next generation the opportunity to learn from experience and build their self-confidence.

Internships are a vital way to unlock potential. As Andy Lothian puts it: “Books and study are great, yet you cannot learn to fly, swim or dance from a book. Experience is transformative”.

This summer we experimented with digital or virtual internships with significant success creating a new opportunity to scale.

We must open more internship opportunities to young people from widening access backgrounds. They may have excelled against the odds, yet they lack the networks and door openers to secure this life defining experience. Through programmes like the Saltire Scholar intern programme we seek out those with the greatest potential irrespective of background; those for whom an internship could be transformative.

Last year, of 181 interns, 47 per cent had at least one widening access marker. Separately, whilst we are talking unlocking potential, 57% were female.

The Saltire Scholar Intern programme is only possible with a three-way partnership between our universities, a charity like ourselves and businesses here in Scotland and abroad. No one can do it alone and each has a critical role to play.

Our policy makers, in the eye of the economic storm, are recognising the importance of investing in the next generation.

The excellent Logan Report highlights that “summer internships are an excellent means by which students gain business and commercial experience during their studies”. The Scottish Government has launched its £60m Youth Guarantee. The challenge is how to make it happen, how to create enough meaningful paid internships and jobs. From experience, this is where the entrepreneurial community and our international diaspora have a vital role to play through GlobalScot and Scottish Business Network.

As we look to 2021, we must double-down on creating experiences and our investment in the “human skills” of our young people.

They are the entrepreneurial founders and employees who will power our future.

Sandy Kennedy is CEO of the Entrepreneurial Scotland Foundation.

(Article originally published in The Herald: