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Has the internship sailed for AAI?

CEO Joy Lewis reflects on the organisation’s journey, and what could be next for AAI. 

In 2009 I was working in a Public Policy Think Tank and at the time the economy was in a bad state. Countless talented graduates were throwing themselves at us, offering to intern for free. I knew there were likely countless similarly-talented and motivated graduates who couldn’t afford to work without being paid.

It rang my injustice bell and made me uneasy. When you know something is wrong, it’s in our human nature to fight against it, and I had the platform and the contacts to make some noise.

I approached members of the Think Tank and then the Scottish Government, encouraging them to back ‘paid graduate internships’. A combination of fighting for a cause I believed in, values around fairness I hadn’t even been conscious of, and a weird, stubborn drive to do something different, all made me braver. Luckily the graduate interns didn’t let me down.

In 2012, I spun the company out of the Think Tank, with its full support, and Adopt an Intern (AAI) became a stand-alone social enterprise. I had no recruitment experience, and so it was built based solely on the needs of our clients and our jobseeker audience.  

We had many key milestones. We set up the Scottish Government’s first-ever paid graduate scheme in 2013. We recruited for Scottish Enterprise’s internship programme. We used Government funding to help hundreds of startups and small charities to employ their first members of staff, and through our transparent and holistic approach to recruitment support, we attracted Private Sector industry leaders like Virgin Money, Abellio and Diageo to name but a few. This year we celebrated our 1500th person placed into work.

Since then the company has grown in expertise and focus, but our approach to fair employment and transparency in recruitment has not changed.

After the initial focus on unpaid graduates, we encountered other employment injustices such as women struggling to re-enter the workforce after a career break and the plight of disabled graduates who were failing their interview for all the wrong reasons. We were also attracting people from minority ethnic backgrounds who told us they didn’t feel themselves represented in companies and faced cultural and religious barriers to employment. 

Through all of this, we have encouraged employers of all sizes to hire for potential, to keep an open mind and to allow us to promote their jobs as widely as possible to ensure ‘equality of opportunity’. Our aim? To attract the diversity that helps a company to thrive.

More recently, AAI has developed innovative social impact projects to support Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and business social impact. These are around the key themes of diversity and inclusionrecruitment and retention and community resilience.  

Through this activity, we have gone beyond the original idea behind ‘Adopt an Intern’ and, today, I’m proud to confirm that the company will now trade as AAI EmployAbility, recognising the wider focus of the work that we’ve been doing over the last couple of years. AAI is going nowhere!

Placing internships/jobs on our site and supporting employers remains a priority. So, no, the internship will never sail!! Paid internships/placements remain, in my opinion, the best way to find a long-term employee or employer. They’re not going anywhere either.

Our social impact projects: Diversity Works and Disabling Barriers are another step forward in helping cross-sector employers reap the benefits of a diverse workforce.

For many years now, in addition to internships, we’ve been supporting permanent posts up to £35k. AAI has never been bound by rules so when a company wants help looking for a talented new team member, we want to create that new job. We have found everything from Vegan Full-Stack Developers to Textile Machinists! 

After nearly 10 years, we’re still a young company with a lot of stories. 

Stories of people who have found their professional purpose having had the door opened for them.

Stories of companies who found their perfect team member in our gloriously diverse audience.

And we’re just getting started.

Let’s talk about your story.

#EmployAbility with AAI.


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