Hiring interns is catching on among UAE companies

According to InternsME, SMEs pay interns between Dh1,000 – Dh5,000 a month depending on the field with graphic design the highest paid.

Natasha Nataraj is a former intern at the Proposal Boutique, where she did a three-month marketing internship. She is looking for a job again. Pawan Singh / The National
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In the good old days there was work experience. It was unpaid, lasted a couple of weeks and then you graduated and got a full-time job. Then along came internships, low-paid stints of work that often don’t entitle workers to the same rights as permanent employees. So what’s the point?

For Indian media studies graduate Natasha Nataraj, 22, it’s all about gaining experience. She has completed four internships since she graduated from Mumbai University in 2014, the latest a two-month stint at Proposal Boutique she found on the jobs site InternsME, working as a proposal planner to help men pop the question. She was paid Dh2,500 a month, plus Dh500 for any wedding proposal she coordinated.

“I got to hone my event management skills, something I have never done before, and I got the golden opportunity to set up meetings with hotels and attend them personally,” she says. “My boss allowed me to do whatever I felt was right and encouraged me to go ahead with all my ideas.”

Caroline Ralston, who set up the business two years ago, says: “Natasha was my first intern but the experience has exceeded my expectations. For a small company there are huge financial advantages to hiring an intern, as there is no visa or medical insurance.”

Ms Nataraj says she would highly recommend internships to fresh graduates confused about what they want to pursue in life – but she worries they do not hold “any market value” today.

“It’s disappointing that not one company provided any sort of job stability or growth,” she says. “Employers want two to five years of experience from the prospective candidate, but the job rank is stated as entry level. It’s a very contradictory statement.”

Riddhi Mehta, 25, had a better experience – perhaps because she had the required years of experience. With an electronics degree and two years as a software engineer in Pune, India, she applied for an internship at Westar Properties in Dubai and secured a full-time job as a client relations executive.

InternsME’s chief executive, Jean-Michel Gauthier, says internships and traineeships are “in their infancy” in the Middle East, yet “integral to solving crippling workforce issues”. The business has worked with about 60,000 students and graduates in the past four years. “Onboarding costs in the UAE are quite high,” he says, “so you want to be sure the candidate fits the bill before offering a full-time opportunity. Having an internship is a chance to try before you hire.”

About 95 per cent of internships advertised on the site are paid, he says, and two-thirds of companies that advertise are SMEs.

InternsME provides employers with a table of recommended salaries by role, suggesting that SMEs pay between Dh1,000 and Dh5,000 a month for an intern, depending on the field. The highest paid is graphic design. Interns fluent in English and Arabic can command premiums of up to Dh3,000 or more. For large multinationals, unpaid work is more common but intern salaries can still reach Dh5,000.

In terms of paperwork, InternsME says that, at a minimum, companies need to organise a work permit for mainland businesses or access or ID card for free zones, which cost about Dh500 for students; candidates on their parents’ visas cost more – about Dh1,100. This can get complicated, the business says, and it is working on a guide.

Recent changes to federal laws will allow students aged between 12 and 18 to obtain training permits, while those aged 15 to 18 will also be able to obtain private-sector work permits for Dh500.

Jon Richards, the chief executive of compareit4me.com, says the comparison site normally has two to three interns working at any time – and that two staff members it has hired had been interns. The company pays Dh6,000 to Dh9,000 per month.

“An intern is treated exactly the same way as a full-time employee,” Mr Richards insists. “We see interns as bringing a young and fresh perspective. We certainly don’t hire them because they are a cheap alternative. “

At marketplace site JadoPado, internships last anywhere from one to six months, with most positions in marketing and paying Dh2,000 to Dh3,000 a month. “As most interns are fresh out of university, it’s easier to hire in much more generalist roles,” says Aamir Kassim, its vice-president of people operations.

Simone Beretta, the head of HR at Bosch Middle East, says the multinational offers paid six-month internships with medical insurance and visas provided. “Interns are our future generation of business leaders,” he says.

Mr Gauthier, meanwhile, recommends that employers set up objectives or a training framework for their interns, with mentorship and supervision and a designated workspace.

Proposal Boutique says Ms Nataraj was set weekly and daily tasks, with a checklist signed off at the end of each week. “It is important for companies to remember that these interns need guidance and short-term goals and a certain level of mentoring to get the best out of them,” says Ms Ralston.


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