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Internships and creating tomorrow’s digital all-rounders

My name’s Harry and I’m an intern at the digital marketing agency, iProspect. I’ve been here for nearly two months now. To accompany our client’s 9-to-5 Buddies Campaign, which asks UK workers to reflect on the people who make the daily 9-5 worth it, I was asked if I’d write an article about my internship. Working at iProspect was my first experience of working 9-5 hours in an office. I heard about the opportunity through a friend who had worked in the company and I had a fairly vague idea about what I was walking into. But I think this vagueness might not just have been me, it’s a lack of definition that is particularly pronounced in the digital sector on account of its novelty and the role flexibility that is often required in the industry.

To enrich my internship, I’ve been taking in a lot of articles, talks and workshops which emphasise the importance of adaptability for workers in digital marketing. In the words of Anne Hubert (senior vice president of Scratch, Viacom’s ‘creative swat team’), today’s marketing professionals need to be ‘all-rounders rather than specialist athletes’, if they are to survive in an environment where ‘social experts are behaving like creatives, traditional PR firms like social experts, and so on’.

The increasing dissolution of old boundaries and formulation of new ones is something I see around me on a day to day basis: as part of iProspect’s Content and Media Team, I’m involved in reaching out to bloggers to place content, analysing trends in online conversation, producing PR and editorial for online and offline placement, design and implementation of Facebook and Twitter campaigns, audits of website architecture and content.

In a small team we possess a range of collected skills that would have traditionally been scattered across PR and marketing strategy firms, advertisers, social and SEO teams, and even web design companies. From conversations within iProspect and externally, it seems that an increasing number of people see this integrated approach as where the digital sector is headed.

To get to grips with such a range of activities that go on within our agency, I have observed and learnt from those around me. By drawing on my colleagues’ expertise (and getting their support when things went wrong!) I’ve become familiar with a wide range of activities, the freedom to learn  and even to make a few mistakes as you go, is one of the things that makes internships so valuable in the working world.

In the inherently flexible digital environment, internships and other forms of on-the-job training become even more vital elements in spreading the necessary skills. I think internships are particularly valuable for gaining the sorts of ‘tacit knowledge’ that are easy to demonstrate, but not necessarily easy to put into words. I’ve already lost count of the number of online tools which baffled me at first but which I quickly got the hang of through watching my colleagues use them. The same could be said for any industry, but particularly so for digital sectors, in which the available technology, tools and trends are subject to rapid change.

Given the well-known shortage of candidates for digital roles – mainly because of the specialist skills needed, but perhaps also because of the  unknown  elements in such a newly emerging sector  internships could be a key way of bridging the gap between the worlds of non-digital and digital employment. They enable the sort of hands-on experience vital for learning a range of new products and services; but they also expose large numbers of people to the day-to-day realities of working in digital, and hopefully show even those who’ve spent their careers in other industries that there’s nothing to be afraid of. My internship has taught me more than I could have expected in such a short term and, for me at least, the assistance of my team was crucial in making that possible.

Much of what I’ve learnt so far can be summed up in a simple idea: even all-rounders need a strong and supportive team around them.