Over the last few decades of expansion in higher education in Europe, young people’s education to work transitions have become more turbulent and uncertain, accentuated by the 2008 financial crisis. While internships during undergraduate study are currently widely recognised as a way of gaining relevant work experience and as a route into employment, not everyone benefits equally, and there are differences in how internships fit into the educational and labour market context across countries. Using two longitudinal graduate surveys, AlmaLaurea for Italy and Futuretrack for the UK, we look at graduates who completed their studies around 2009-10, just as the impact of the financial crisis started to bite, and explore their early transitions to work (first or nearly first jobs). We analyse access to internships during undergraduate study and employment outcomes (getting a job, wages and perceived skills match) thereof, focusing on gender and social class, addressing the complexity around defining internships and how this varies within and across national contexts. Our comparative analysis highlights how different higher education and labour market regimes affect the role of internships in transitions to employment. Our analysis further raises timely policy questions about what welfare states should do regarding inequalities in access to internships and in the graduate labour market more broadly.
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