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Are undergraduate internships worth the effort?: Time to reconceptualize work-based learning for building protean meta-competencies

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>2/01/2024
<mark>Journal</mark>Studies in Higher Education
Issue number1
Number of pages14
Pages (from-to)84-97
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date9/06/23
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Internships are widely recognized within higher education as a useful work-based learning (WBL) approach to enhance student employability. However, there remains a need to understand whether internships provide a developmental experience that includes higher-level (soft) skills such as self-responsibility, flexibility and innovation. Our study inductively analyses 154 undergraduate student-interns’ reflective diaries over a 3-year period to explore the relationship between internship experience and the development of higher-level skills, or protean ‘meta-competencies’. In the research, we find the interns’ developed three meta-competencies that can broadly be categorized as self-regulation, self-awareness and self-direction. Our findings also highlight the role of socio-political dynamics of internship work in shaping students’ experiences as an indicator of the changing world of work. The study has implications for higher education institutions (HEIs) and host organisations in adopting a WBL approach that supports interns with reflexive engagement with situated organizational practices and accessing (in)formal learning opportunities in the workplace. Our research, therefore, offers insights into a learner-centred WBL approach that contributes towards a more holistic internship/WBL experience that facilitates student interns in developing protean meta-competencies and graduate employability.