In a regularly held company catch up meeting we were talking about a potential work placement coming in and what they might be tasked with doing. This is unusual for us - we haven't had a graduate placement in since I was there on placement over a year ago now, so having students in is a habit we have gotten out of (which by the way I completely disagree with). What I found interesting about this meeting was that considering I was the placement there not so long ago, they didn't ask me what a graduate placement might like to do, which troubled me.
Suggestions that went round included "the Christmas card" (very funny)... "Birthday cards"(...) "Making tea.." all very funny suggestions. When serious ideas came up they were laced with phrases like - "placement job" - That's the perfect job for a placement. By this phrase what they meant was - that is a job suited to a placement because it is not a job for us (high and mighty designers).
To be honest, to some extent they are right. A new graduate wants to integrate into the agency. I always wanted to be useful. I hated it when I found out that the job they had given me was a made up one. I preferred doing "placement jobs" like cutting up, popping to the shops for samples, photographing products/places - bits and bobs (much like I do now) because it not only gives the graduate a realistic impression of what they are capable of and would be doing within the company full-time should they stay on, but also proves to the company that they are capable of being useful and financially viable. Of course a design internship consisting only of these tasks is a disappointing one. So it is good to be involved in briefings and some form of mac work, so that you do come out with some experience and a few more illustrator shortcuts under your belt. Better still, if you are there for some time, design work is important. Useful for both the graduate to show their development during that internship and for the company to ascertain the graduate's creative potential. It would be foolish (or impossible) for them to hire you without some idea of your creative capabilities.
So my suggestions to my company would be: integration (bits and bobs) as well as creative work - but the more live the project the better and to work with some one is also important because it is imperative you have someone to ask questions, a mentor or a benchmark who can show you what sort of level a design needs to be at to present to a client. The important aspect of an internship as well is its length. Having had many week long internships, I can definitely say that a week is not a long enough period for you to either gain anything or be remembered. A month is a much better time scale to fit in all aspects of a good internship.
I would love to hear your ideas on the perfect tasks for interns. I know many junior designers end up managing the placement schemes, so it would be good to hear what sort of tasks are handed out to your graduates and which you find most successful and well received. Or as an intern, what do you find works best for you? Also, if you have any under graduate interns in (degree students, foundation students, or gcse students) how does the scheme cater for their very different needs?