Professional accomplishment, career advancement, and primary employment are the pivotal issues for undergraduate students. Although the overall university educational experience is considered a preparation for employment and professional performance in the future, it is practical skills acquisition during an internship that shapes students’ vision of their job, opportunities, responsibilities, challenges, and prospects. The value of an internship is validated by the contribution to students’ knowledge and practical skills in their respective fields of expertise, their soft skills development, and enhancement of critical thinking, decision-making, and resilience (Bhattacharya & Neelam, 2018). All these aspects are of crucial importance for undergraduates’ future employment prospects.
However, according to Durack (2013), a student internship, even if it is accomplished successfully, does not guarantee consecutive permanent employment under the contemporary conditions of high rates of unemployment. Moreover, for many students impacted by debts and the lack of parental financial support, work during studying is an essential income source, which drives their likelihood to enroll in internship programs (Curtis, 2007). Therefore, since the internship is not predominantly considered an immediate predictor of students’ employment, it is important to investigate what, if not the advancement of employment opportunities, motivates students to enroll in internship programs. Given the identified inconsistency in the current literature and the gap in interns’ motivation research, the present study aims to find answers to the following research questions:
- General research question: Is pay level a predominant motivating factor in students’ internship enrollment decision-making?
- Specific research question 1: What motivates students to seek internship opportunities?
- Specific research question 2: Are students satisfied with their pay level?
- Specific research question 3: What are the perceived benefits of students’ internship experience?
In particular, the focus of research will be set on students’ perception of motivating factors, satisfaction with payment, and the overall internship benefits. These research questions will be addressed by means of qualitative inquiry using the individual online interviewing method. The study is anticipated to contribute to the scope of academic literature on the topic of student employment by unveiling the motivation behind their internship experiences.
Payment Issues Related to Internship
Internship programs are designed to ensure students’ effective and smooth transition from the educational setting to employment with all necessary practical skills and work-related abilities developed in a timely manner. While there is debate around the effectiveness and professional value of such programs in academia, the question of payment, its size, and allocation to interns is of no lesser concern (Silva et al., 2018). Many students seek internship enrolment for financial reasons; often, they are motivated to combine work and education to obtain money to cover their studies (Moreau & Leathwood, 2006). Thus, there is a potential risk for diminished quality of academic performance due to the complications associated with combining work and education. Moreover, the question of proper pay level emerges as an important factor in students’ internship enrolment.
The tendency of higher education institutions to pay for students’ work within internship programs is characterized by inconsistency. Indeed, according to O’Connor and Bodicoat (2016), in the UK, there are multiple unpaid internship programs that either exploit all of the enrolled interns or selectively pay only those fully engaged in their tasks. As a result of existing both paid and unpaid internship programs, two types of working students have been identified by O’Connor and Bodicoat (2016). They include engagers who view the internship as an opportunity regardless of payment and disengagers who are “characterized by their lack of uptake of internship opportunities” due to their negative attitude toward internships (O’Connor & Bodicoat, 2016, p. 442). Another research found that “developmental value is perceived to be higher in paid vs. unpaid internships” (McHugh, 2017, p. 376). Moreover, as the study by Smith et al. (2015) demonstrates, earning money and having paid job experience as a part of an internship was found to be a significant motivating factor for students. Workloads equivalent to standard employees and a long duration of students’ work validate the importance of paid internship programs.
Theoretical Framework: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Motivation is one of the essential drivers of human behavior and decision-making. When finishing education, a student’s primary goal is obtaining employment, and an internship is one of the tools that have been designed to facilitate students’ preparation for their job after graduation. One of the most important goals of an internship “is to ensure a smooth transition from the student life to the workplace” (Kapareliotis et al., 2019, p. 539). In such a manner, work during an internship allows students to test their skills, attitudes, and beliefs “pertaining to specific work tasks or career pathways” (Kapareliotis et al., 2019, p. 539). Given the benefits of an internship, students’ motivation might be driven by the advantages of development such experience provides.
Maslow’s Needs Theory, or, as it is also referred to, Hierarchy of Needs, is used as the theoretical basis of this research study. According to Stefan et al. (2020), motivation is fundamental to human behavior, which always seeks to satisfy a need. Maslow’s theory demonstrates “how all dimensions of motivation are interrelated, based on the idea that human behavior is determined by a limited number of developing fundamental needs which emerge and operate in a sequential order” (Stefan et al., 2020, p. 126). As shown in Figure 1, the needs that motivate human behavior are categorized into five groups, starting with basic ones and finishing with more advanced, higher-level sophisticated needs. Importantly, the above-mentioned sequential order of these needs is essential to the theory since one cannot fulfill the needs of a higher level without satisfying the needs of preceding levels.
As it is seen in Figure 1, physiological needs, including food, water, and rest, form the basis of the pyramid. They are followed by safety and security needs, needs for feelings of belonging and love; esteem comprised of status and accomplishment; self-actualization, which includes creativity, fulfillment, and performance to full capacity (Stefan et al., 2020). When applied to the subject of the current research, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is used to identify the level of needs that motivate students to seek internship opportunities.
The study design was a qualitative study with elements of narrative research, which was validated by the subject under investigation, which requires interacting with participants and exploring their perception of a problem or issue. Since the topic includes a range of factors influencing students’ motivation, the perception of students was deemed to be best examined by means of qualitative inquiry. Moreover, a qualitative study was preferred to a quantitative one due to feasibility and time-efficiency considerations.
A sample of seven students were recruited to participate in the study. A non-probability sampling strategy was utilized to ensure that only participants who have had internship experience are included in the sample. A relatively small sample is validated by time constraints given the duration of data collection, interview transcribing, analysis, and interpretation. Students of the Business and Management Department were recruited to participate in the study. Since there is a growing trend in changes in the business field due to economic fluctuations and structural shifts, undergraduates’ skills gained during the internship are of significant relevance to the research (Kapareliotis et al., 2019). Thus, the student-workers were enrolled in the research study based on the validation of their professional affiliation. The respondents were contacted using online platforms to obtain their agreement to participate.
Data were collected from the seven participants by means of online interviews. Interview questions were generated on the basis of the research topic and research questions. Overall, apart from introductory and general communication with participants, four pivotal data-generating questions were developed to detect respondents’ motivation, satisfaction with pay level, and perceived benefits of internship (See Appendix A). Students’ responses were recorded and transcribed before analysis.
Findings and Discussion
This section presents a discussion of the results of the study, its major findings pertaining to the specific research question, and the interpretation of the findings against the chosen theory. The findings are thematically categorized into three categories corresponding to the three themes/questions, namely motivation to seek internship opportunities, students’ satisfaction with pay level, and perceived benefits of students’ internship experience. Respondents’ answers are presented alongside the analysis in accordance with Maslow’s Theory of Needs.
Motivation to Seek Internship Opportunities
Given the general question of the present study, which sought to identify whether pay level is the predominant motivating factor for students in internship, the primary theme that requires analyzing is the overall students’ motivation. Table 1 provides students’ responses to the questions aimed at detecting the major motivating factors. Two questions were asked to clarify participants’ reasons to enroll in internship programs.
Table 1. Students’ responses to questions about primary motivation
|What was your primary motivation for applying for the job?||Did you think that internship would be a contribution to your work experience when you applied?||Level of need according to Maslow’s hierarchy|
|Participant 3||“It boosts my application for post-graduate studies”||Yes||Safety/Belongingness|
|Participant 4||“I need money and I have free time.”||Yes||Physiological /Safety|
|Participant 5||“I need to pursue my major.”||Yes||Safety/Belongingness|
|Participant 6||“I am motivated by an opportunity to work with professionals and learn from their experience.”||Yes||Self-actualization|
|Participant 7||“This is a job that brings money.”||Yes||Physiological|
Respondents were labeled with the corresponding dimension of needs within Maslow’s hierarchy to identify the characteristics of their motivation. While categories ranging from safety to self-actualization are self-explanatory within the context of their application to answers’ analysis, physiological needs require explanation due to the focus of the study on working experience. According to Stefan et al. (2020), “salary, other material benefits, and work schedule are corresponding to the dimension of the physiological need,” which is applied to the analysis of the respondents’ answers.
As it is evident from Table 1, three out of seven participants stated that their primary motivation was to obtain money. Importantly, despite being motivated by monetary interests, Participant 7 and Participant 4 confirmed the overall positive contribution of internship to work experience. However, Participant 2, consistent with their monetary motivation, admitted no contribution of internship to work experience. Therefore, only two respondents demonstrated the lowest level of needs, namely physiological ones, when being motivated to join the internship program, and Participant 4 was motivated by both physiological and safety needs since they needed money and required activity to devote time to.
Participants 3 and 5 were motivated by the necessity to pursue education continuation, as well as the confirmed positive contribution of internship to work experience. Such responses demonstrate the Participants’ motivation to fulfill their esteem and belongingness needs, which fall under the category of medium-high level within Maslow’s hierarchy. Finally, Participants 1 and 6 were motivated by gaining new experience related to their profession and improving their networking while cooperating with prospective colleagues. They also emphasized the pivotal role of internships as a significant contributor to work experience. Thus, these responses correlate with the highest level of needs, which are self-actualization needs. To summarize the data analysis on motivation, one might reiterate that three participants were driven by lower-level needs, two respondents were motivated by medium-higher-level needs, and two participants were triggered by higher-level needs.
Students’ Satisfaction with Pay Level
In order to detect whether the interviewees were satisfied with their pay level, they were asked one question related to their opinion on the match between their workload and salary. As seen in Table 2, all participants but one (respondents 2-7) stated that they found their salary match their workload, while Participant one denied the match. Consistent with the findings from the motivation section, these results indicate that participant one is not primarily motivated by money, which is why they comply with a mismatch to gain experience.
Table 2. Students’ responses to questions about satisfaction with pay level
|Do you think your salary matches your workload?|
Perceived Benefits of Students’ Internship Experience
Within the context of motivating factors to join an internship, the discussion of the perceived benefits is valuable due to its demonstration of students’ validation of their experience. Table 3 shows the interviewees’ responses to two questions pertaining to the theme of perceived benefits, including the skills developed during internship and the general perception of internship as a beneficial experience. Students’ answers were categorized in accordance with the corresponding levels of needs within Maslow’s hierarchy.
Table 3. Students’ responses to questions about the benefits of their internship experience
|What skills do you think you can develop during the internship?||Do you think that students will gain more benefits from years of work during the internship?||Level of need according to Maslow’s hierarchy|
|Participant 1||“Self-management, time-management, and resilience.”||“Of course.”||Self-actualization|
|Participant 2||“Communication skills and other soft skills”||Yes||Belongingness|
|Participant 3||“Teamwork skills.”||“since it is different and new, it is a valuable experience.”||Belongingness/ Esteem|
|Participant 4||“Social and motivational skill.”||Yes||Belongingness/ Esteem|
|Participant 5||“Improved knowledge of my major.”||Yes||Safety/ Belongingness|
|Participant 6||“I am pursuing the development my leadership skills and employment readiness. I want to improve my strategic thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making. The internship helps me develop in all these respects, which is why it is nice to experience.”||Yes||Self-actualization|
|Participant 7||“The internship teaches me how to earn my living.”||Yes||Safety|
The results indicate that out of seven respondents, only two participants, namely Participants 7 and 5, stated the skills and perception of benefits related to independent living and improved knowledge of major. These answers correspond with the lower-medium level of needs, which are safety and belongingness. Participants 2, 3, and 4 demonstrated a medium-higher level of needs as a motivating driver since they admitted the internship’s development of communication, teamwork, and social skills. Finally, Participants 1 and 6 were primarily driven by the desire to improve their employment readiness, develop personal skills, and fulfill their ambitions. All these responses imply the category of self-actualization, which is the highest level of needs within the hierarchy.
Therefore, given the results of the conducted analysis of interviewees’ responses, one might conclude that pay level is not a predominant factor in students’ motivation to enroll in internship programs. Only two out of seven participants demonstrated a lower level of needs driving their decision-making, while the remaining five participants showed a combination of a medium and high level of needs they pursued when motivated to seek internship opportunities. Notable, two participants were consistent in their highest level of needs with their self-actualization motivating their internship experience.
Several limitations should be considered within the framework of the conducted study. A relatively small sample might impose inconsistency, and diminish the generalizability of research findings since the responses of seven non-randomly sampled participants might be biased and non-illustrative of a larger student population. However, the small sample size was validated by practical considerations and the overall goals of non-generalizable findings. Another limitation consideration is the subjectivity of findings due to the data collected on the topic of students’ perception of the internship experience. Therefore, the findings might be biased; however, this subjectivity is unavoidable in qualitative narrative research.
In summary, as the results of the study, indicate students’ motivation to seek internship opportunities is influenced by both lower- and higher-level needs. Importantly, when answering the general research question, a researcher might use the findings as the foundation to state that pay level does not predominate over other motivating factors for students’ enrollment in internship programs. The majority of Participants admitted significant overall skill-related benefits and work experience contribution of an internship. Five out of seven interviewees consistently emphasized skills development and experience gain as their motivating factors, with only two students explicitly stating that earning money was their primary motivation. Therefore, the research results indicate that although pay level is an important aspect of students’ likelihood to enroll and persistence to complete an internship, it is not their primary motivation. These findings might serve as a basis for future research on the topic to investigate the effectiveness of students’ internship experience within the context of their post-graduate employment and work performance.
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|What was your primary motivation for applying for the job?||Did you think that internship would be a contribution to your work experience when you applied?||Do you think your salary matches your workload?||What skills do you think you can develop during the internship?||Do you think that students will gain more benefits from years of work during the internship?|
|Participant 1||“Experience.”||Yes||No||“Self-management, time-management, and resilience.”||“Of course.”|
|Participant 2||“Money.”||No||Yes||“Communication skills and other soft skills”||Yes|
|Participant 3||“It boosts my application for post graduate studies”||Yes||Yes||“Teamwork skills.”||“since it is different and new, it is a valuable experience.”|
|Participant 4||“I need money and I have free time.”||Yes||Yes||“Social and motivational skill.”||Yes|
|Participant 5||“I need to pursue my major.”||Yes||Yes||“Improved knowledge of my major.”||Yes|
|Participant 6||“I am motivated by an opportunity to work with professionals and learn from their experience.”||Yes||Yes||“I am pursuing the development my leadership skills and employment readiness. I want to improve my strategic thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making. The internship helps me develop in all these respects, which is why it is nice experience.”||Yes|
|Participant 7||“This is a job that brings money.”||Yes||Yes||“The internship teaches me how to earn for my living.”||Yes|