Source: Nick McPhee.

The employment picture may be brightening slightly six years after the financial meltdown, but the job market is still pretty tough, particularly for college graduates. Unemployment remains high for young people aged 20 to 24 years – 11.1% in December, compared to the national rate of 6.7%. Of the 3.9 million long-term unemployed, 2 million  belong to the aforementioned age group.

With competition for jobs still fierce, many students are turning to volunteer work and internships to bolster their chances for later employment. While college internships are fairly common, companies are responding with vigor to the level of increasing interest – and are beginning to look to younger, high school-aged students to fill these positions, as well.

High school internships on the rise
The harsh new economic reality, and dearth of part-time jobs have been credited  with an increase in unpaid internships among high school students looking for ways to polish their college applications. Recent studies show that internships are becoming more popular with both high school and college students – and employers.

A new report from Millennial Branding notes that half of companies surveyed said that they are currently taking applications for or developing high school internships for 2014. Eighteen percent of employers stated that the mission of such programs is to identify future college interns, and 70% said that students that complete their programs are very likely to become college interns – with a commensurate 45% chance of becoming a full-time employee once the internship is finished.

College internships are flourishing, too. In 2012, for instance, 36% more employers offered college internships than in the previous year, and 53% reported that they would take on more interns in 2013, according to Internships.com. In addition, 65% of companies surveyed noted that they received more applications for such unpaid positions in 2012 than in 2011.

In the site's 2014 survey, 67% of the class of 2013 reported completing at least one internship during their college career, compared with the previous year's 63%. Similarly, 56% of companies said that they are planning to hire more interns this year than last. These types of positions are no longer reserved for just summertime, and the vast majority of employers now offer internships year-round.

A worthwhile endeavor
Are students happy with the notion of working for free in order to secure future employment? It would seem so. Internship.com's most recent survey showed that 87% of college students rated their experience as positive, noting that work experience was the main reason they applied for the position. The third most common reason for participating was to secure full-time employment; 73% of large employers cited using internship programs to find full-time workers.

The Millennial Branding survey noted that 77% of high school students and 64% of college students are at least very interested in performing unpaid work in order to gain work experience, so it is likely that these programs will continue to grow.

Already, there seems to be quite a variety from which to choose. On Glassdoor.com alone, for example, there are well over 12,000 college intern  positions, as well as over 5,600 available for high school  students. For students looking to pad their resumes, unpaid work may be a stepping-stone to – and more readily available than – the compensated variety.

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