Deena Habib, CEO and co-founder of Yspot advocates for a different approach to internships and the importance of youth in the workplace.
WHAT IS YSPOT?
Launched in 2021 by Deena Habib and Ban Jishi, Yspot is a platform aiming to revolutionize connectivity between the youth and organizations. In partnership with schools, universities, and leading organizations in the region, it creates meaningful work experiences through brand advocacy programs, bespoke internship opportunities, and community discussions. Yspot also surveys youth frequently to understand their needs and gains feedback from organizations to understand best practices for internships. It recently launched its first podcast incubator program in the UAE, in partnership with JBM Studio and Anghami, where students have the opportunity to be mentored and work alongside industry leaders and influential figures in the region.
How can organizations that want to recruit the younger workforce better engage with them?
The way youth work is changing, which is shaping the future of work. Organizations that want to stay competitive and stay ahead, that want to innovate faster and save cost, need to improve their employability branding. To start with, they need to bring in the youth, collaborate with the youth, and talk to the youth because, ultimately, they know what they like and what they want. Companies also need to understand the different youth personas. There are common grounds: they were born with digital, for example, and they have basic expectations for work – being flexible, being able to work from anywhere on their mobile, and having content always top of mind. But some are looking to grow their career and accelerate and innovate; others are more creative; and others want to travel and experience different things. Not all youth are the same.
And, most importantly, I believe more opportunities should be created for youth, from a younger age, to collaborate. They are creative, they are innovative. It’s untapped, raw talent. The more they start to collaborate and are brought into projects from an earlier age, the more they and the organizations will benefit.
What’s keeping employers from doing that?
Because many organizations are still stuck in rigid, vertical structures, the job markets have become [overly] competitive and the number of vacancies out there is decreasing, which is tougher and tougher on the youth. We need to start to look for other ways to create opportunities for them, switching to more dynamic, horizontal structures that foster collaboration within the organization – internships, short-term contracts, project-based work, etc. – and that are embedded in the culture. Yet, many organizations bring in interns without quite knowing what to do with them, and the last thing you want to do is bring in someone creative and drown their creativity because you’re not able to build on that. Structures should be in place in terms of measurements, outcomes, expectancies, etc. before the youth even comes in. There are many tools and methods that can be used – innovation hacks, workshops, design thinking – and, most importantly, the youth need to be put into an environment where they’re entrusted, they’re empowered, and they’re allowed to innovate and be creative.
How do employers in the region look at internships today?
Internships are still new in the Middle East – it has just changed quite recently. Multinationals do have their own internship programs, that they take from Europe and America and try to apply in the Middle East; but it still remains to be seen how effective those programs will be in the local markets – I personally think there’s room for adaptability. As for local organizations, they do want to take on interns, but they don’t have programs or still don’t understand how these programs should be run. There’s still not enough clarity about how internships can benefit both the youth and organizations in a powerful way. That’s why Yspot was created.
What are the benefits of internships, beyond trying to be recruited for youngsters and testing out potential recruits for employers?
Internships should be considered from a number of different angles: organizations can gain a new perspective from interns, who come with fresh, innovative ideas and dynamism; it definitely changes the whole ecosystem for everyone else around them. Internships also help local talent educated in the region – and therefore familiar with the culture – stay in the region instead of going for internships abroad. They can definitely help cut costs as well. And when you consider moving towards a more horizontal structure, it helps when people at the top mentor and empower the youth. Instead of measuring [seniors] for a bottleneck, start to measure how many people they’ve mentored; how much knowledge they have actually transferred. Because if they haven’t transferred the knowledge down, this knowledge dies when they leave. You can keep companies alive that way.
Do you believe there’s a perception issue about today’s youth and work?
To an extent, perceptions have been skewed. The youth are underestimated. There’s so much more that they can offer. Many get put into a bucket, unless they’re a top achiever, going to a top university, getting a top job. There needs to be more focus on other skillsets, and other talents. That’s why, for example, we have a youth board at Yspot, we survey the youth, and all of our programs are built around feedback that comes from them. In fact, at the end of the pro- gram, we have the intern stand up in front of the organization and present their feedback on their experience. It’s actually valuable information for organizations that can learn from them.
Do they listen?
They will, over time if they’re getting the same feedback over and over again. And we’re building this feedback into our own programs. The way we design our programs is by having the trust of both parties.
What’s your advice to both recruiters and potential young recruits?
To organizations, be more open to collaborating. If you don’t have an internship program in place already, you should be looking to have one where it’s a win/win situation – flexible, project-based, where interns can come in with their creativity. Allow them to innovate, mentor them, hear from them, and listen to their feedback. And make sure that your program has a structure to it. To the youth, look for internship opportunities. Learning by actually experiencing is probably the best way of learning. And don’t be afraid to try something different. There’s no right or wrong; there’s only a journey and you’ll only figure it out through experience.