There is a disconnect between what college graduates know and what employers need from them. Academic institutions teach students how to be theorists, not the active problem-solvers that employers seek in today's service economy. So when a college senior marches down the aisle to pick up her diploma, she's still lacking some key tools she needs to land a job.
Fortunately, there is a solution to this skills deficit: internships. College internships provide an important way to connect theory with practice -- to learn by doing. They also add great value to the organization and its ability to expand its talent pipeline. Internships give businesses the opportunity to see interns in action, test their thinking, check for talent fit and assess their personal and professional connection to the team and workplace.
6 Steps to a Successful Internship Program
To create meaningful internships that become an effective part of the talent-sourcing process and provide a valuable learning experience for students, consider the following:
- Define the core talents, strengths and passions that are needed in the role and source interns who fit the role (use the same criteria as if you were hiring for this job).
- Identify the majors and educational institutions that best prepare interns for the particular roles needed by the organization. Partner with the right institutions.
- Clearly define the internship role, including areas of responsibility, expectations and performance outcomes. Share these with both the institution’s coordinator and each intern.
- Connect each intern with an employee who is charged to supervise, guide and mentor the intern. Provide continual performance feedback -- to both the intern and to management about the intern.
- Include interns in as many company activities, meetings and events as possible; encourage their active contribution (new perspectives can help an organization change its view and get out of a rut).
- Consider paying your interns. The Department of Labor in recent years has been aggressive about enforcing federal rules aimed at protecting unpaid interns from exploitation.
The value of including interns in the workforce is immense. Internships give students not only practical experience, but also the ability to connect business to ideas presented in the classroom. They help employers evaluate entry-level talents as potential future employees, and they help them build bonds with local educational institutions.
Building an effective talent-sourcing plan in today’s changing workplace requires expanding the sources from which to find talent. Building today’s talent pipeline is not just a numbers game -- it is a quality game. Employers must constantly source talent that fits their roles, their organizations and their missions. This requires casting a broader net, being clearer about the performance profile and including relationships with colleges to expand the number of interns.
It may take some time to redefine what educational institutions must provide students to help them succeed in life. Until that is all worked out, internships can be implemented relatively easily, quickly and effectively. If done right (and legally), here is a true win-win-win -- for students, academia and employers.
Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
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This article was originally published in Laurie Ruettimann's blog in December 2022.
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