Helping students gain work skills for employment

Nine students will start internships at Unite Students this summer. We look forward to helping them begin their careers, says its MD Richard Smith

What do our students want? We know that a key priority for students is to start a meaningful career at the end of university. For many, the career they want shapes the course and city they choose and so, from the moment they live with us, they have clear ambitions. For others, they want to use their student years to explore opportunities. 

At Unite Students, we currently house more than 46,000 students, more than any single university. We anticipate this number will rise to almost 50,000 in the coming academic year when we open five new properties this summer in Scotland and England. Since we were founded in Bristol in 1991, we have hosted half a million students. By 2026, we anticipate more than one million students will have lived with us. This is an incredible privilege for us and we strive to provide supporting conditions in which bright minds can flourish. 

We believe we have a role to play, working closely with students and universities, in helping students prepare for the employment and the future. We have experimented with pilot internship schemes and found them rewarding. This year we attracted 700 applications. We have 1,250 employees at Unite and they are all passionate about empowering the next generation. Our employees who work on our front desks in our properties or on our maintenance and housekeeping teams spend most of their working days with students and have a lot of direct contact with them. The intern scheme gives those who don’t work with students every day a real opportunity to share perspectives, to listen to their view of the world and to directly contribute to helping them build their working lives.

We are literally providing the supporting conditions in which bright minds can flourish. It’s crucial that we work closely with the universities on helping prepare our students for employment

Seven of the interns will be based at our Bristol headquarters, one at our London office and another in Leeds, all for three months. We give all of our interns projects to develop their confidence and boost their employability, in addition to the direct experience of working in a business and being paid for it. They will get day-to-day support and guidance from an allocated line manager and they will also have a ‘buddy’ in another team – someone they can go to with questions and ask for advice and informal support.

Last year we had a fantastic intern from Exeter University. He owned a project which saw him develop a useful system and process for capturing and updating our records of waste management across our entire estate.

Jenny Shaw is our Head of Higher Education Engagement and she told me: ‘Working with the interns has been a fantastic experience. We have gained so much from their up-to-date knowledge, their perspective as students and their dedication and hard work. In return, it’s given us a chance to directly contribute to their future success.’  

So this year we have launched a more formal internship programme. It was opened to all students, not just those living in our buildings. I’m delighted that one of the selected students is studying with support from The Unite Foundation. This is the charity we launched in 2012 to give accommodation and scholarships to students who face the most challenging circumstances. The interns have been selected to work across a range of areas in the business, including customer communications, energy and sustainability and finance. 

We look forward to passing on our skills to our interns and learning from them.

Unite Students was founded 25 years ago in Bristol out of a belief that students deserve good homes. There was a shortage of university-owned accommodation in the city so Unite Students opened a private hall. Now, Unite has 132 halls in 28 cities across Scotland and England. It supplies more than 60 universities with accommodation. At the heart of Unite Students is one purpose which is to give its students a ‘home for success’.

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