An opportunity in professional environments for exposure to the requirements of a particular occupation or industry, the work environment and the behavioral expectations for success on the job. Such experiences don’t always provide formal training for occupational skills (though some may be learned), but rather focus on developing the essential skills and professionalism.
Benefits and Challenges
- Students bring new perspectives to old problems
- Proven way to recruit and evaluate potential employees
- Your image in the community is elevated as you work with education partners and enhance student experiences
- Provides leadership opportunity for current employees, increasing their engagement with company as they mentor and manage young interns
- Bandwidth of internal team to coordinate and manage program
- Identifying volunteers
- Identifying partnerships and distillation of local student programs
Students & Educators
- Improve student motivation, attendance, and graduation rates
- Opportunity to foster relationships with community organizations
- Supports development of Essential Skills while providing a potential pathway to employment
- Validates and informs student curriculum by bringing relevance and work experience to subject areas
- Improve ability to interact and communicate with adults
- Time commitment and resources to get the program started
- Identifying a business partner
- Transportation for students
Designing an internship program must meet your needs. As varied as organizations are in age, size, industry, and product, so too are their internship activities. How do you know what kind of program will work best for you? Designing an internship to meet your needs has four steps:
1. Set Goals
2. Write a Plan
3. Recruit Interns
4. Manage Interns
A careful discussion with management can create a consensus on program goals and can be understood by all involved. The program and internship can be designed to best meet those expectations. As many staffing professionals know, for a program to be successful, it will require the commitment of management.
Consider the following when setting goals for your internship:
- What does your organization hope to achieve from the program?
- Are you a small organization searching for additional help on the project?
- Is your organization growing quickly and having difficulty finding motivated new employees?
- Are you a non-profit that doesn’t have the resources to pay but can provide an interesting and rewarding experience?
- Is your organization searching for new employees with management potential?
Write a Plan
Carefully plan and write out your internship program and goals. Managers, mentors, interns, high school and college career centers are all going to be reading what you write about your internship. Draft an intern position description that clearly explains the job’s duties. Do you want someone for a specific project? What about general support around the workplace? How about giving the intern a taste of everything your company does?
Structure the internship ahead of time to meet your goals and help avoid major barriers partway through. Below are some of the questions to consider. Your organization’s approach will depend on your specific resources and needs, as well as the needs of your interns, and the school/district they attend. We encourage you to work collaboratively with your school partners to create a solid plan that works well for you and your interns.
Consider the following when planning your internship:
- How much will you pay the intern? Wages vary widely from field to field; be sure yours are competitive.
- Where you will put the intern? Do you have adequate workspace for them? Will you help make transportation arrangements?
- What sorts of background, experience, or interests do you want in an intern? Decide on standards for quality beforehand – it’ll help you narrow down the choices to find the best candidates.
- Who will have the primary responsibility for the intern? Will that person be a mentor, or merely a supervisor?
- What will the intern be doing? Be as specific as possible. Interns, like others in the process of learning, need structure so they don’t become lost, confused, or bored.
- Do you want to plan a program beyond the work you give your interns? Will there be a special training program, performance reviews, lunches with executives, social events? Keep in mind that your interns are walking advertisements for your company. If they have a good experience working for you, they’re likely to tell friends. A bad internship, by contrast, can only hurt your chances of attracting good students.
- Who will mentor your intern? Having a dedicated mentor or supervisor from the intern’s department is essential for their learning and success. This person should be someone who likes to teach or train and has the resources and capacity to do it well. If the mentor has not worked with an intern before, give him or her some basic training in mentoring before they begin.
How will businesses find the ideal candidates to fill their internship position(s)? The number-one tip from those who have established programs is to get out there early. This cannot be overemphasized to organizations that want the best interns. Begin searching 3 to 4 months before you need a student to begin. Additionally, the sooner an intern is secured, the more time there is to form a good working relationship with them.
Successful internship opportunities are truly partnerships between businesses and school districts. It is important for a business to identify and foster relationships with the relevant district staff. Some school districts have a central office role assigned to set up internships for students. This person usually has a title of “Career and College Readiness Administrator” or “Community Partnership Coordinator”. In smaller districts, this may be done by individual teachers, counselors, or even the school principal. If the local school/district offers Career and Technical Education Programs (CTE), partnering with those teachers can be great resources for identifying prospective interns who may already have some of the skills and experiences that will prepare them to be successful, productive interns.
If offered by the district, businesses should be sure to participate in internship and job fairs, place ads in their school papers and websites, and send materials to relevant student organizations. Businesses can also promote themselves elsewhere in the city by getting to know people at local workforce development centers and youth employment projects. Post advertisements on such organizations’ websites and get to know the contacts there. It is also helpful to have a presence on social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Remember to choose your interns just as carefully as you’d choose permanent employees. After all, they might be permanent employees someday. You are making an investment; time and money will go into this person.
- Is the intern truly motivated or does he or she just want a job?
- Will the intern fit into your organization’s culture?
- Does he or she have the transferable skills or knowledge that will allow them to be successful?
- Has the student completed relevant coursework that better prepares them for the position?
- Is the student “coachable” and willing/able to learn quickly?
Once you have hired a worker, you put them to work right? That is true for interns as well as regular employees, but with an intern, you will be making an important first impression. The beginning days of the internship program are often its defining days. When you give them their first tasks you will be signaling what can be expected in the future. If you give them nothing or very little to do, it sends a message that this job will be easy and boring. Interns don’t want that; of course, neither do employers. The organization of your internship program will probably be the single most important influence on an intern’s impression of your organization, and thus the chances that he or she will come back. So how do you “plan for success”?
Consider the goals of your program.
The nature of the program and the activities that you choose to undertake should directly relate to your program goals.
This might take the form of a conventional orientation program or merely a walk around the office, depending on the size of your company. After all, even though they may not be permanent employees, they’ll be spending a great deal of time in your workplace. Give interns an overview of your organization; some companies give talks or hand out information about the company’s history, vision, mission, and services. Explain who does what and what the intern’s duties will be. Introduce him or her to coworkers and give them a complete tour of the facility. You may want to send out a company-wide or unit-wide email to introduce staff to the intern (including a photo so they can say hello!). Making your intern at home in the office is your first step to bringing them back.
It is important to be aware of the type of message you are sending to your intern through your preparation of their arrival. Try to avoid placing your intern in an out-of-the-way room or transferring them from desk to desk. Again think through the materials they may need, such as a laptop and charger. Show them where to find additional supplies. If your intern(s) does not feel comfortable in the space, you could miss out on valuable contributions to your projects.
There are many ways to be supportive in a professional environment. We do not recommend watching your intern’s every move, but you do want to make sure you know what is happening day-to-day. Watch for signs that the intern is confused or bored. While silence can mean that an intern is busy, it could also be a sign that they are confused and shy about telling you so. Interns want to succeed, but at the same time are likely new to navigating a professional setting. Paying attention early helps you head off problems and foster an environment of positive productivity.
It is important to think through the internship as a talent development opportunity. If your intern(s) have never done this kind of work before, they’ll want to know if their work is measuring up to your expectations. No matter what the level of experience, they need you, as a more experienced worker, to let them know if their work is satisfactory. Periodically, examine what your intern has produced and make suggestions.
- Informal Feedback:
Informal feedback is sometimes not perceived by the student as feedback. Informal feedback shows up as comments or a light-hearted nudge. When using informal feedback be clear with your intent. The more direct, the more likely the student will perceive this to be an area of focus. Positive feedback should be given freely. Areas of growth should be presented in a private setting where the student in not embarrassed. Feedback should be delivered as often as possible to encourage the student to continue to develop.
- Formal Feedback:
Formal feedback should be prepared and delivered in a private meeting with the intern to discuss their strengths and areas for growth. It should be designed so the manager achieves his/her desired objective. Students should have clear objectives of what areas of growth need to be addressed. Use specific examples of student behavior whenever possible so students have clear ideas of what areas need improvement.
Remember those goals you outlined before? A few weeks after the internship begins, it’s time to see how well you and your intern are meeting those goals. Evaluation processes may differ. Yours might be as formal as written evaluations every three weeks or as informal as occasional lunches with the internship coordinator and/or the intern’s mentor. Some companies have the intern evaluate the experience and the company as well. Again, your structure is largely up to your corporate culture and needs. As a bonus, these evaluations will be handy later if you decide to interview a former intern for full‐time work, or to publicize how successful your program has been. Check out the forms found with the additional resources. Maintaining program popularity will require hard evidence that your organization is getting a return on its investment. Some organizations have adopted a process of formal exit interviews.
Through this process they can determine if interns are leaving the company having had a good experience, and it provides valuable feedback to managers for program planning in the following year. In addition to qualitative measures, several quantitative measures should be adopted. Some common measures include the number of interns that become full‐time employees; repeat requests for interns from managers; and growing numbers of intern applicants. In order to successfully measure your own program outcome, you should return to the stated program goals, and address those outcomes.
With the job market experiencing a talent pipeline issue, it is important to engage potential employees early. Investigate employing quality high school, community college, technical school and college students that you can expose to your company. Take on interns now and you’ll have a competitive advantage in recruiting the best workers ‐ you’ll already be known to the employees you want most. Your new workers will already be trained for your workplace and loyal to your company, lowering training time, recruiting costs and turnover rates. You’ll build a reputation that will pay off with students, colleges and the community. And your company will save money while benefiting from the input of talented, enthusiastic, innovative people. With all these advantages, you might find that you can’t afford not to do internships.
Examples and Partners
The Medical Career Collaborative is a partnership between Children’s Hospital Colorado and Denver Health propels students towards careers in healthcare through hands-on experiences and professional development opportunities. It is a two-year program, with activities taking place at both Denver Health and Children’s Hospital Colorado. Students are eligible for a paid internship during the fall, spring, or summer of their junior year. During the program students are placed in one department at their designated hospital where they work (and learn) alongside team members.
The CareerConnect Launch program in Denver Public Schools offers business partners a robust support system for internship supervisors and students alike. DPS staff assist employers with intern selection, provide case management and logistical support to students throughout the program. The majority of business partners report that students are doing productive work within the first 2 weeks, and 95-100% would recommend the program to co-workers and friends. Internships range from 100 – 120 hours a semester. During this time students:
– Learn practical applications of their STEM coursework
– Explore potential career paths
– Make meaningful contributions to their host organizations
As part of its HS Pathways Program, Cañon City High School students complete the Professional and Internship Community Experience (PaICE), an opportunity for every high school student to gain first-hand experience in his/her career choice through a wide variety of partnership with businesses, professionals, and agencies in the Fremont County Area. While the experience is great for students, businesses and local organizations are also provided with much needed assistance for their business.
Lisa Tedesko, Program Coordinator
Celebrating Partnerships (in the news