Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Internships: The Key to Career Preparation, Professional Development, and Career Advancement

Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Internships: The Key to Career Preparation, Professional Development, and Career Advancement

Article excerpt

In today's competitive job market, students who lack real-world experience face major obstacles. Many professional positions require previous experience; therefore, relevant work experience is a key attribute that any entry-level family and consumer Sciences (FCS) professional can offer a potential employer. Internships provide one of the best ways for students to attain that work experience, refine their professional development and career preparation skills, and become a more marketable candidate. The purpose of this article is to discuss the critical role that internships play in the professional development and career preparation of FCS students.

The number of people attending college has increased over the years, making the job market increasingly competitive (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013; Crosby & Moncarz, 2006). In addition, the cost of attending college continues to rise; therefore, students, parents, and institutions of higher education need to consider how prepared students are for employment (Schneider & Settersten, 2013).

One major obstacle that graduates encounter is lack of real-world work experience, which is a vital component; many positions require several years of experience (Bradley & Saracino, 2013). Therefore, relevant work experience is one of the essential attributes that any entry-level FCS professional can offer a potential employer.

Internships provide one of the best ways for students to attain that work experience and become a more marketable candidate. The purpose of this article is to discuss the critical role that internships play in the professional development and career preparation of FCS students. In addition, the authors present a professional development model that can be implemented into the FCS curriculum in order to better prepare students for their future careers.

The Value of an Internship

There has been significant growth in student and employer involvement in internships over the past two decades. For example, in 1980, about one out of every 36 college students completed an internship prior to graduation. This increased to three out of four by the year 2000 (Cook, Parker, & Pettijohn, 2004). Researchers and practitioners alike continue to endorse the value of internships and consider them a critical component of higher education (Gault, Redington, & Schlager, 2000; Sessions, 2006; Stansbie, Nash, & Jack, 2013). Internships provide a bridge between students' academic experiences and professional careers in a wide variety of FCS professions (e.g., apparel design and textiles; retailing; business and entrepreneurship; nutrition, health, and food management).

According to the 2012 Annual Job Outlook survey, conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE, 2011), 73.7% of employers said they preferred to hire students with relevant work experience. Furthermore, employers frequently state that students lack practical work experience and have underdeveloped professionalism skills (Knouse, Tanner, & Harris, 1999; Trust, 2011).

In the NACE study, 55 % of employers preferred candidates who gained their professional experience from an internship (NACE, 2011). Moreover, students often earn academic credit toward graduation for participation in the internship (Cook et al., 2004).

The Importance of Professional Development Trior To and After an Internship

For more than 30 years, Iowa State University Professor Ruth Glock spearheaded the efforts to expand the Apparel, Merchandising, and Design (AMD) Program's internship program by strongly encouraging students to participate. Internships became an AMD curriculum requirement during the 2007-2008 academic year-a timely decision because many companies use their internships as a recruitment and retention tool (Korkki, 2011). The AMD faculty believed it was vital to build the internship experience throughout students' academic careers. Rather than simply requiring an internship experience, the AMD Program provides a carefully structured pre-professional development program, guiding the students' employment and career advancement (see Table 1). …

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