OP-ED: The good, bad and ugly on internships
She was a tall, pretty student with a 4.0 GPA who was in my face with notebook in hand. She was “on it.” I took her to some professional meetings, introduced her to a former student — now president — who took her on as an intern. He later hired her.
There were at least three “wins” in that equation. Works for me.
The good: Internships are necessary for both academic and career preparation. They provide practical application of theory in a work setting. And while this may not be seen the same as regular experience, it is valued by employers.
A further point is that in many instances the intern setting gives a view that the student would not otherwise have obtained.
Finally, internships lead to jobs in many cases.
Unfortunately all is not rosy with internships. There are problems in the process. We need to be up front about them so internships can achieve all the “wins” possible.
The bad: Colleges use internships as marketing hooks, which is not necessarily a bad thing but becomes so when schools make claims that aren’t true. These include statements that all students will have internships when that is not the case. Exaggerating the job-placement rate of students following an internship is common.
Bureaucracy is a major impediment.
My undergraduate experience with a federal internship — where I did almost nothing for six credits and $200 (in 1976) and never listed it on my resume — was an early introduction into federal bureaucracy that was repeated many years later. A student who served a federal internship could not obtain employment because the agency’s policy was not to hire former interns, only current ones.
Students don’t get help they should receive with finding placement. Faculty supervisors just hand out a list of employers or tell students “it’s on the website.” This is irresponsible at best. Intern placement sites need to be constantly cultivated. Representatives for agencies should be given face time with students at various formal and informal junctures.
Faculty must mentor, not exploit.
There are also instances where faculty are negligent in placing students appropriately. They sometimes fail to keep the intern-to-employee pipeline alive. Some faculty don’t do site visits. Some don’t assign appropriate work so that theory and practice marry. Others assign busy-work that irritates students and serves no real purpose.
The ugly: Some faculty are assigned interns when they should not be given that responsibility. “Intern hogging” occurs when select faculty hog the interns and rewards for “supervising’ them.
It’s necessary for interns to do some grunt work, but their main focus needs to be managerial. In Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Inc., the court held that internships must provide interns with significant educational benefits tied to the interns’ formal education programs. If they don’t, minimum wage and overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act are applicable.
The future: Faculty need to be proactively searching out organizations that can effectively manage interns. They need to help employers and cultivate relationships with them. Active involvement in professional organizations is important. So too are local civic groups.
Career advising must be done in concert with internships. Course scheduling and curriculum design needs to synchronize with internships. The intern experience is a capstone within the educational process.
Here in historic York, interns should be a community conversation. We have some great opportunities for internships.
“Makers” need help. These small businesses are replacing the large factories. Perhaps seeking out intern placement with smaller organizations makes sense.
One major option is website and social media management for churches and other nonprofits. So too is research for nonprofits and governments. Assistance of nonprofit folks in social media and marketing can provide several “wins."
— Chris Hertig is a Spring Garden Township resident who had three internships as an undergraduate. He has written extensively on professional development, is on the ASIS Professional Development Council and is Certified Protection Officer Instructor.