Lisa Katz| Crain’s Detroit Blog

Gov. Rick Snyder recently announced that February 2014 would be Cooperative Education and Internship Month, proclaiming that “cooperative education and internships are critical tools to retaining bright, young talent in Michigan as they help students gain competitive occupational skills by linking career instruction with supervised training and experience on the job.”

According to the announcement, students benefit from these opportunities in many ways: increased career awareness and exposure, development of workplace readiness (or “soft”) skills, smoother transitions from school to work, commitment to education, increased workplace productivity and learning the value of teamwork. Research supports each of these statements with such statistics as employers offering full-time positions to 56.5 percent of their interns and retaining 88.9 percent of hired interns for at least a year.

Additionally, a study done in Pennsylvania concluded that “while even average-performing interns were significantly more likely to receive full-time job offers than non-interns, high-performing interns were likely to receive higher starting wages.” And, that high intern performance helped to enhance the value employers saw in offering quality internship programs.

There it is, the “Q” word. It makes perfect sense that quality internships lead to better-quality employment, including job satisfaction and higher wages for workers, and higher productivity and better output for employers. But what constitutes a “quality” internship?

While the go-fetch-my-coffee type of internships inevitably will always exist, the National Association of Colleges and Employers has compiled 15 Best Practices for Internship Programs, as part of its publication Building A Premier Internship Program: A Practical Guide for Employers. Suggestions include:

  • Providing Interns with real work assignments. Interns should be doing work related to their major, work that is challenging, recognized by the organization as valuable, and that fills the entire work term. Note: Asking interns to do real work often constitutes providing them with a real paycheck, both legally and ethically.
  • Offering flex time and/or other unusual work arrangements. Student schedules can be a juggling act, so it is important to stay flexible. Employers might want to consider options like keeping students on as part-time or remote employees. Other options might may include allowing interns to work full time during school breaks and part time during the school year. Employers who keep the lines of communication (and work options) open for a good intern are more likely to be able to convert the role into an actual hire.
  • Having an intern manager. Designating someone to be the intern manager is important. For small businesses that cannot afford to hire more staff, an option is to, yes, hire another intern to manage the interns.
  • Conducting exit interviews. Gathering feedback on the internship experience is important for continuous improvement. Exit interviews give interns a chance to share what they have learned and experienced with the employer, and to receive critical feedback that could help them become better employees.

How can students be sure they get the most out of their internships? The main strategy is to treat the internship like a real job … because it is! They should do their research about the occupation and company they are exploring, do their best to know what to expect, ask for feedback and pick the brains of their coworkers. Above all, they should take the work seriously.

It can, however, be difficult to take an internship seriously if it is not the right fit, either for the intern or the employer. Enter Intern in Michigan, a free resource that has attracted nearly 2,000 employers from across the state to post more than 6,500 internship opportunities.

Unlike Web-based job boards, Intern in Michigan asks questions to determine how well students’ individual skills and interests align with the needs of employers. By instantly creating correlated matches between employers and internship seekers, the system saves employers time and money, helping them to quickly prescreen candidates from hundreds of universities. Since its launch, Intern in Michigan has made more than 200,000 matches between employers and internship seekers, resulting in nearly 10,000 candidates entering the interview stage.

Internships are becoming a solid track to career success in today’s labor market while consistently proving value to employers. More internships are being posted monthly (which can be seen on the Michigan Intern Dashboard), and Intern in Michigan can help students find the opportunities they need. One student stated, “Within a day of registering, I had been matched with internship opportunities, and even received a few requests from employers who viewed my profile and had interest in my skills. In my first two weeks [I] had interviews with five companies!”

Whether for a student seeking an opportunity or a local business that wants to expand staff and stretch resources, an internship can lead to great things. What better time to get started than a month specifically devoted to these efforts!? Interns can be the glue that holds our labor market together, as long as both students and employers give it their best shot.

This blog post was compiled with research and content from Sarah Sebaly, Project Manager – Strategic Pathways, Workforce Intelligence Network.

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