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Unexpected outcomes of providing (ethical) paid internships

Rebecca Friel, Director of Odd Arts, looks back on an employer experience which paved the way to new ways of thinking...


Odd Arts was thrilled to have been accepted as one of the Trailblaze Employers in 2018. For anyone with little knowledge of this scheme, Trailblaze offers young people the opportunity to gain valuable part-time paid work experience, in a role that is tailored towards their needs and aspirations. The programme is jointly organised by Curious Minds and Manchester Metropolitan University.

This was a fantastic opportunity for Odd Arts too. For us, the ‘risk’ of a paid internship seemed lower, due to the specialist support guidance we would receive through the Trailblaze partnership, but also, we received a small contribution towards the hourly rate of our intern.

Values-based vision
Odd Arts always strives to adhere to its company values, not only in the way we work with ‘participants’ but also in the way we engage with the world more widely… staff, volunteers, partners etc. It was important to us that a part funded ‘work experience placement’ should not become opportunistic ‘cheap labour’! To ensure this isn’t the case, we asked ourselves:
  • Can we achieve what is being asked of us?
  • Does what we intend to provide sit within our own values system?
We had to be sure that what we were offering would provide a benefit to Odd Arts, but also the genuine career progression and ‘experience’ it should. To truly fit with our company values, this Trailblaze placement had to offer:
  • Development
  • Experience
  • Increased employability
  • Support
  • Opportunities
Because we are a growing organisation, the offer of employment at the end of the placement was also always a real potential.

Success sometimes comes in unexpected forms
The placement we constructed was very hands on; focused on the intern gaining practical experience and techniques to facilitate creatively with the least heard groups. The role mainly supported workshop planning and preparation, giving an insight into to project management aspects behind the work.

Our vision of what success might look like was simple… Develop an individual to be a fulfilled and contributing member of the team, who might then continue long term employment within this role. This did not happen!

The first person placed with us gave some beautiful additions and creativity to our work, offering their professional typography skills and event management to enhance showcases and workshops; they fitted in with the team and showed potential. But in less than 3-weeks the placement came to an end, when the individual gained full time employment in the creative industries.

Oh…. Hang on… This isn’t what we expected. However, reflecting on the aims we had (increased employability, experience, support, opportunities, development) then this is surely the greatest success?!

We were then lucky enough to gain a second individual, Ibukun. Once again, Ibukun threw herself into the internship; offering beautiful visual arts ideas and supporting mural projects with young people in secure units and community settings.
Giving time to reflect on the experience with Ibukun showed us that she had big dreams in the textile world, with plenty to gain from the ‘accessible, values based, applied’ approach to our work. Ibukun hoped to start her own fashion business working with disadvantaged groups, training them to make the products and gain employment in doing so. It was exciting to hear about her plans. By the end of the placement Ibukun had gained support for the company, been granted a work space, and was ready to go...
Once more, our idea that the placement would lead to future work (with us) was flawed, but again this is by no means a failure. Ibukun is building her own start up in the creative industries, we remain in contact offering set-up advice/mentoring, and Ibukun is continuing as a freelancer to complete a mural she started in a children’s secure unit. The experience has also shown us that we had both the need and capacity for a new staff member and Odd Arts is currently at the final phase of recruiting 1, possibly 2 new team members.

Reflecting on the Trailblaze experience has been really interesting. Neither candidate progressed in the way we envisaged, yet both offered us different skills & creativity, and found outlets to turn these skills into a career. By being clear on our intentions, objectives and values from the outset, we have been able to see the benefit the process has brought to us and those individuals involved without needing to put people into a box or being too prescriptive of exactly what success should look like.

Well done to both individuals and thanks to all you contributed to Odd Arts. For anyone interested in our freelance or volunteer programme or finding out more about Odd Arts please contact info@oddarts.co.uk or visit our website www.oddarts.co.uk.

Holly Web

Curious to know more about Trailblaze? Click to contact Holly Ball

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