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Changing the conversation around internships
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Matthew Shannon discusses the need to support the future of our industry through an effective and empowering internship programme.

Interviewing for a position at a design agency back in the early 2000s, the then creative director turned to me and said: “I really want to work with you. Can you start tomorrow?”

Any sense of elation quickly disappeared when I started to ask about the role, expectations, the future, and what a day would look like for me. Would I be offered a full-time position after the internship? What projects would I be working on, and with whom? So many questions, including the clincher: how much would I be paid? He said they’d reimburse my tube fare and buy me a sandwich for lunch.

I didn’t accept the role. I couldn’t afford to. How was I going to pay for my rent, food, the experiences needed to become inspired? I would be required to bring conversation, vision and creativity to problems on a daily basis. Solve that creative conundrum.

Appreciating that experience, it’s been clear to me for a long time that there’s a big problem in the transition from university to employment in creativity. The desire of students with great minds and great vision to work is much stronger than the respect and encouragement reflected back at them by those of us who are already established. That’s fundamentally unfair, because a good idea can come from anyone, and I don’t think it’s right that we take advantage of people’s minds. We should show our appreciation for the fresh ideas, energy, enthusiasm and new values they bring to each and every one of us in the studio.

Supporting future talent

SampsonMay believes interns should enjoy all the benefits of a full-time employee, with a London minimum wage and a three-to-six-month internship contract so they can really learn their craft. The idea is that they’ll get a feel for life agency-side and either stay with us, or we can support them in finding the role that’s right for them elsewhere. Because a good internship programme should help talent find their perfect place in this vast sector.

Whatever the outcome, young designers will have professional work in their portfolios that they can show to future employers, alongside student projects. That’s essential because the days when agencies would recruit based on final folders are over. Plus, interns will have invaluable experience working and collaborating within a studio of knowledgeable people.

There are also marked benefits for those of us who have been in the industry for years. Mentoring and leadership aren’t always easy. I know brilliant designers who can’t let go of ‘their’ work, who struggle to allow their teams creative freedom. But the best results come from collaboration and empowering interns and junior designers to find their own approach. Team leadership, trust and togetherness enable all of us to grow.

Investing time and knowledge

Internships are about the investment of time and knowledge. The benefits are not always immediate. The problem a lot of upcoming designers face is that they’re seen as a source of immediate ancillary support, rather than being allowed the time to deliver live projects. There’s a big difference.

But done right, the rewards can be amazing. We have talented team members who have come up through our internship programme and are set to become real powerhouses in the creative world.

Paid internship programmes make people feel valued and give them a sense of responsibility. They play an important role in helping people segue from college into the professional world. As such they bring a sense of integrity and strengthen the foundations of our industry. Afterall, if we don’t value our new talent, why should anyone else?

They have an important role to play in diversity and inclusion, too. There are many people who can’t afford to work for nothing, who don’t have financial support from parents or guardians.

And then there are the students who, rather than spending their early university years collaborating and partying together, were siloed thanks to Covid-19. We’re going to have to give those young designers even more support if we’re to protect our industry.

Leaving a meaningful legacy

I believe that, at SampsonMay, we don’t want our legacy to be the last or the best piece of work that we’ve created. We want our legacy to be evident in the people we’ve mentored, in the people with whom we’ve collaborated. For us, it’s about supporting our sector, the designers coming up through the ranks and the skills we pass on.

Looking for an internship opportunity?

If you’re interested in joining SampsonMay’s internship programme, you can find out more here and we'd love to hear from you and discuss the opportunities that would be right for you.

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