Monthly Archives: September 2013

Internships

I’ve heard and read a few comments recently about internships, so wanted to write a blog post on the subject, as I think it is a troublesome issue at the moment.

Self-disclosure: when i was at university I benefitted a lot from internships, mostly paid ones. I should also note that all but one of the internships i got were obtained through contacts, so wouldn’t have been available to most people.  But I’ll do my best to look at the issue objectively.

Ignoring any payment for the moment, an internship involves the intern giving time and energy and getting experience, skills, the chance to show a potential employer what they are capable of, and often a sense of satisfaction. It involves the company giving its people’s time, getting some work done, getting a chance to ‘try out’ a potential employee, and getting a good reputation for recruitment.

I’d like to note two easy-to-make mistakes when considering the previous points. First, not all internships provide same benefits and costs to the intern or company. Secondly, the benefits to the intern aren’t equivalent to the costs to the company.  For example, the chance to show what you are capable of benefits both. And the intern doing more real work may benefit both. So, there are some great win-win internships, but they do take some effort from both parties to arrange.  In my internships, I definitely considered the closer to real work they were, and the more work i had to do, the more I valued the experience.

As well as the risk of a badly designed internship in which the overall costs outweigh the benefits, sometimes even win-win arrangements can cause problems. For example, if internships are only available to those whose parents are well connected, or who can afford to work unpaid, they will contribute to a less equal world. If you cant get a job in a company or industry without an internship, it may crowd out deserving candidates who werent in the right place at the right time, and may reduce diversity of applicants.  And if interns are seen as an alternative to permanent paid positions,  they will prevent others from being fairly compensated for their work.

I believe that internships are a good thing, but in these times where millions are struggling to get work and the company is in the position of power, companies do have an obligation to manage these risks. So I’d suggest a few guidelines for companies:

. Take efforts to widen the range of applications you consider for internships
. Pay interns a fair wage, taking into account living costs, the value you expect to get from their work, and what you’d pay a starting employee. This will also help ensure your internships support rather than hurt your brand in the recruitment market.
.  Make sure there is a route to employment that doesn’t rely on internships
.  Work to maximise the win-win factor.
.  Don’t ignore the fact that an experience as close as possible to real work may provide the best internship experience for both company and individual.

And for an intern, be on the look out for ways to maximise the value of your internship to the company as well as to you (a valuable skill throughout your career).

Too devoted to work

Last weekend, as I was jogging around my local park, I was pleased to discover a name for a problem I worry a lot about: The Work Devotion Ideal.  I like it having a name, because problems with names can be dropped into conversation, forcing others to think about it and have an opinion.

I discovered the term in an HBR interview with Joan C. Williams, a Professor of Law at the University of California.  The idea is that many people, men in particular, feel that their work is their primary source of identity, of moral worth.  It is the most obvious way to show that you’re successful, a real man, someone to ‘be reckoned with’.

I suppose I should be happy we’re no longer dependent on our ability to hunt or fight for self worth.  But the work devotion ideal isn’t without its damaging effects, to the individual, or to society.

When too much work is done, it can lead to workers feeling conflicted between their work life and family / community engagement.  It can lead to them doing work that doesn’t really need doing, or is even harmful – taking unjustified risks or taking advantage of colleagues, customers, society or the planet.

And when work isn’t available to be done, it can lead to the person feeling socially useless, affecting relationships and personal wellbeing, even beyond the financial lack of income.  We know that technology and globalisation are going to lead to increasing unemployment and underemployment, and I see this as a major risk for our society.

It pleases me that increasing numbers of people (both men and women) want to work in a more balanced way.  But companies and individuals still naturally look for and favour employees that display the work devotion ideal, without recognising the costs.

The sooner we get the balance right, personally and in our companies, the better off we’ll be.  So I’d encourage you to have a read or listen to the article, and be mindful of how your actions perpetuate or challenge the work devotion ideal.

5 ways technology can make train travel less of a nightmare

I’m a big fan of any technology that makes public transport more efficient or less painful.  Yet it is amazing how many great improvements, such as the ones mentioned in my friend’s blog post, haven’t been tried.  Still, they’re very much worth considering, and I hope one day someone or some company will be bold enough to try them.

5 ways technology can make train travel less of a nightmare.

Some thoughts on the logic of Christianity

I generally don’t discuss religion on the internet, as it is too easy to be misunderstood or appear offensive when you don’t intend to be.  But, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the logic of religion recently, and wanted to write down my thoughts, in a way that would be accessible to Christian and non-Christian readers.    

So if you’re interested in my thoughts, read on.  If not, feel free to ignore this, and remain in eager anticipation until I write another post that’s a bit more to your liking.  

I hear a lot said about Christianity from my friends, who are a mix of believers and non-believers of various degrees of conviction.  And I see a lot written about it in the media, and on the internet.  I feel strongly that each person is entitled to their own beliefs, and I’ll never tell them that they are ultimately right or wrong.  But, I do consider a lot of the statements I hear to be logically incorrect (irrespective of which side of the debate they are coming from).

Thinking about Christianity is difficult, because there are several angles to look at it, and they tend to get confused.

Firstly, at its core, Christianity is a statement about the past, present and the future (that God created the world, that Christ died and rose from the dead, etc).  These things (summarised in the Creed) are either true or they’re not.  This contradicts the idea that Christians and non-Christians can both be right, that it is all just inside your head – but I don’t think that is what Christians are saying they believe in.

I don’t believe any of us know we know beyond all doubt whether these things are true, and so the best we can do is form a belief one way or other (we can also choose to ignore the question, but that isn’t a great starting point for a discussion!).    Belief is a complex thing – it is formed by a mix of experience, what we read and are told, analysis, and quite a bit of gut feeling.  So it is not surprising that different people, despite living in the same world, use reason to form different beliefs about whether the core Christian beliefs are true, and I’m not inclined to criticise their conclusions.

As well as the question of whether it is true, and the question of whether you believe it, the third angle to look at is how you live your life, as this is likely to be influenced by your beliefs.  From a personal perspective, I consider this the least important of the three angles (behaving like a Christian while not believing, to me doesn’t count as being a Christian).  But from a societal perspective, this seems to be the aspect that Christians are judged on most and indeed often use to justify their faith.

In once sense, I find this logically flawed, for example, when I hear people say “I don’t believe in God, because Christians do bad things”.  But in other ways, it makes sense; given we live in a society where a large minority don’t believe in the Christian faith, it is only their actions that others have any right to judge.  But, we should stay mindful that in doing so, we are judging their actions, not their faith, and not the ultimate truth of what they have faith in.

Part of the reason that Christian belief has become fundamentally intertwined with ‘Christian’ behaviour comes from it having been the default, or state religion, for so many centuries.  Many behaviours that society consider virtues, are considered Christian behaviours (think what we mean when we call someone’s behaviour ‘unchristian’).  Though I do admire such behaviour, I worry about it being so linked in people’s minds to a belief.  You don’t need to hold Christian beliefs to display what we’d commonly consider Christian virtues.  You can hold Christian beliefs without displaying these virtues (whether you aspire to have them but fall short, or don’t feel them appropriate).  And, if society decide Christianity is good by virtue of some of its deeds, it will be forced to then accept other Christian behaviour that it doesn’t consider good.

To summarise, I feel it would make more sense from a logical perspective if, instead of trying to judge the worthiness of a belief based on the actions of its believers, we could instead judge whether we think the action is good based on more objective grounds, and if we’re going to judge the reasonableness of the belief, do so more directly.