A Foot in the Door at UNICEF

UNICEF has introduced a Graduate Program to promote greater organizational diversity.

by Sydney Mengel, January 2, 2018

It's a struggle with which we're all painfully familiar: apply for a job in order to gain valuable experience, but get rejected precisely because you lack such experience. How, exactly, are we meant to procure that which companies value so highly? Internships. While a few may be fortunate enough to participate in programs offering unpaid internships, many cannot.

UNICEF, along with other organizations, has begun to realize that, for countless individuals, an unpaid full-time internship is not viable. On the other hand, laws like that in Germany, which has banned unpaid internships for non-students (yay!), have had the unfavorable effect of making it increasingly difficult for recent graduates to get a foot in the door of the NGO world. 

So, what are the alternatives?

UNICEF UK Graduate Program
UNICEF UK has decided to add another program to its internship scheme, but this time for a paid position. In order to diversify their internship repertoire, the organization has opted to establish a set of new, graduate-level paid internships. This will provide an incredible set of opportunities for those who cannot afford to participate in an unpaid internship program, as well as for the organization itself, who will benefit from inviting in an entirely new community.  

We were able to contact UNICEF UK to talk about the new program in greater detail: why the NGO decided to undergo these changes, and what recommendations they can provide for those hoping to apply to a similar program.

Why has UNICEF decided to graviatate away from the traditional, unpaid internship model and toward a paid graduate program?

UNICEF UK has, in the past, created a small number of voluntary internships to provide a range of opportunities for talented individuals to kick-start their career in the voluntary sector. Last year, however, a decision was made to review these arrangements, in line with our approach of further encouraging diversity in the workforce. As a result, we are developing a wider range of volunteering opportunities and have advertised a new graduate development programme that will pay the London Living Wage as a minimum.  

How do you think the creation of this program will impact UNICEF?

We think that the new programme will increase opportunity for 2 graduates seeking to develop a career in the voluntary sector. The 12 month placement will see them in a ‘high challenge and high support’ environment, gaining professional work experience and making an impact cross organisationally. We’re really excited by the change.

Do you think this model change will help inspire other NGOs to create paid programs?

Genuine volunteering opportunities are important for charities and enable them to increase their reach and achieve more for their beneficiaries. However, we have found that unpaid internship schemes were often taken up by young people that could afford to do so, which wasn’t in keeping with our aims and ambitions. Many other NGOs already offer paid programmes and these have certainly inspired us, so if our change of direction has the same effect, that would be great.

Can you tell us a bit more about the program, aside from compensation? What can participants expect to take away?

The 2 participants initially can expect to receive a thorough induction into UNICEF UK, so as to enable them to take on 2 challenging placements over the 12 month period. They will have cross organisational exposure and a discrete project to work on, which will be linked to our strategic goals for children. They can expect to have a great line management support as well as a mentor throughout their time, and whilst we cannot, unfortunately, guarantee a permanent role at the end of it, they will certainly be well positioned to secure employment either with us or in the sector.

What are your most salient recommendations for candidates hoping to apply for the next round?

We have received a phenomenal response to our advertisement, and so I would suggest the following general guidance:

  • Tailor your application to the job pack and the organisation.

  • Allow enough time to complete the application fully, giving specific examples whilst being concise.

  • Include examples of any voluntary work, fundraising activities etc, as well as work experience.

Originally published February 12, 2017