Academic Internships with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: An Experiential Approach to Teaching Human Resource Management

By Elkins, Teri J. | SAM Advanced Management Journal, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview
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Academic Internships with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: An Experiential Approach to Teaching Human Resource Management


Elkins, Teri J., SAM Advanced Management Journal


For a number of years, organizations have called for more "relevance" in the educational training of managers to ease students' transitions from the classroom to the workplace (Kleinschrod, 1971). Employers have complained that higher education programs often fall to respond to one of their most basic needs: providing students with skills necessary to function effectively in a business environment (Fitt & Heverly, 1992). One response from universities has been to develope internship programs designed to provide experiences more closely tied to potential work settings (Gabris & Mitchell, 1989). Internships and other cooperative education programs are not new ideas. For some time, companies have used these cooperative education programs to "preview" college students as potential employees (Thiel & Hartley, 1997; Frazee, 1997; Woodward, 1998). However, such programs have not been commonly used in management education to integrate classroom knowledge and application experiences (Galloway & Beckstead, 1995; Buckle y, Wren & Michaelsen, 1992). This underutilization is troubling in light of changes shaping today's business environment.

The need for relevant experiential learning is acute in human resource management curricula. Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in the interface between human resource management and the legal environment. An in-depth understanding of today's equal employment opportunity (EEO) laws has become critical in human resource management. Collectively, EEO laws affect virtually every human resource management function including recruiting, selection, performance appraisal, compensation, discipline, training, and termination. Although laws such as the Equal Pay Act, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act have been in place for over 30 years, new legislation such as the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991 have significantly added to human resource managers' compliance responsibilities. Additionally, current demographic trends indicate that the workforce is becoming more diverse. Women account for about 46% of the workforce, while the number of minorities is expected to rise from 24% in 1995 to 32% by 2020. The workforce is also aging with the number of workers aged 45-54 growing by 54% in the 1990s (Judy & D'Amico, 1997).

Clearly, these increases in diversity create a potentially volatile environment if managers are insufficiently trained in the content and application of employment law. Students must now acquire the knowledge and skills to design and implement human resource policies without violating today's EEO laws. While traditional management classes are important for providing students with basic academic knowledge of EEO laws and diversity issues, such traditional methods alone may not fully develop essential skills. Therefore, to integrate basic classroom knowledge with skill-building experiences, an academic internship course was created through the cooperative efforts of the University of Houston (UH) and the Houston District Office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The purpose of this paper is to discuss some of the pedagogical underpinnings and structural design of the internship and recommend this type of course as an experiential approach to teaching human resource management.

Academic Internships in Higher Education

In response to employers' calls for more relevance in education, universities have begun to offer academic internship courses in which students work for a company or agency and receive course credit in lieu of monetary compensation. These types of internships have been used successfully in a number of municipalities but, overall, are underutilized by government agencies (Bell, 1994). Some faculty, moreover, have been critical of giving course credit for internships (Ciofalo, 1989).

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