How an internship at NIACE has restored my hope for the future

4 July 2013

Written by Ryan Mercer, NIACE’s Policy Development Intern who graduated from the University of Leicester in 2012, with a BA (Hons) Ancient History and History.

On 11 July 2012, I graduated from the University of Leicester with a 2:1 History degree. In the distant past this would have been seen as the first step in building a career, but with so many young graduates out of work it is only a small part of what’s needed. Like most other recent graduates, my CV was a vain attempt to persuade employers that working in a charity shop amounted to high level customer service and that I was an experienced events manger having organised my department’s summer ball. Needless to say, employers saw right through it – in the end all I had at this point was potential. Over a hundred applications later and £20,000 in debt, I couldn’t help but wonder what had been the point.

At a careers event organised by the University of Leicester – for struggling recent graduates like me – I was made aware of their internship scheme where they fund a large chunk of the salary for a paid 3-month internship. They encouraged me to apply for a Publications and Events internship with NIACE – an internship paying a living wage is a dream for a graduate from a poor background, offering the chance to learn and develop in a graduate level role, while actually being able to afford to eat. With no grasp of marketing or publications (but with outstanding events management skills), I rewrote my CV and hurriedly sent it off on what I was sure was yet another futile exercise.

To my astonishment I secured an interview and even more surprisingly, the interview seemed to go well, though it must have been very obvious I was clueless about marketing. A few days later I was called back for a second conversation, but with a different team. I was asked how I’d feel about an internship in Policy Development, which I enthusiastically accepted (not knowing what policy development meant). NIACE had taken the time to gauge my potential and decided that even though I wasn’t right for the position I’d applied for, it was worth giving me a chance in a post they felt would suit me better.

At first I struggled a lot, having never worked in an office before – I made a lot of mistakes, said the wrong things, overlooked important details. But my line manager was exceptionally patient and gave me the time I needed to settle in, understand my job, work better with people and grow more confident in the environment. I was given numerous opportunities to develop and prove myself and as time went on, I became better at taking them. I was able to attend numerous events which stand out as highlights in my experience – European Conferences in Cardiff and Leicester, a Parliamentary reception and of course Adult Learners’ Week.

My work has been diverse, having supported policy, research, advocacy, communications, events and publications in various ways throughout the six months I’ve been working at NIACE. The range of opportunities has been fantastic and has given me a fairly comprehensive understanding of the work NIACE does in a relatively short space of time. Being able to try different things has helped me develop skills that previously I barely knew existed, blogging amongst them.

I have been able to really commit to my internship, because it has been my job rather than a voluntary unpaid role where I would have to worry about supporting myself around it. As a result I’ve had a truly fulfilling experience and I feel I have been able to make a significant contribution to the important work that NIACE does in supporting equality and opportunity through adult learning. For me, my only regret from the experience is that it has to end.

Despite this, I can go forward with optimism. A year ago I just had a degree and was more than a little lost. Now I have clear idea of the career I want to pursue and concrete experience I can build on towards it. I have hope that had almost evaporated before, and I know that this time, it is not a matter of if I will get a worthwhile job, but when.



Essex Havard

July 8th, 2013 at 11:17 am

An inspiring and thoughtful blog Ryan. It is easy for an old duffer like me to forget how hard it was to find a job when I graduated in 1987. The situation is now far worse. It is obvious from your blog (and having worked with you) that you now have the experience to mix with your undoubted ability and I wish you the very best for a fruitful and work-filled future. Go get ‘em!

Lou Mycroft

July 8th, 2013 at 11:38 am

Ryan, this has inspired me to think differently about internships. I have dismissed them as being exploitative; what you’ve convinced me of here is that, if they are paid, they can provide meaningful and mutual benefit. The very best of luck to you in your future career.