Making Internships Well Worth the Work

By Hodgson, Pamela | Techniques, September 1999 | Go to article overview

Making Internships Well Worth the Work


Hodgson, Pamela, Techniques


Internships may be among the most popular forms of work-based learning, but that doesn't make developing them any easier. Here are the basics for setting them up and seeing them through.

It's said that experience is the best teacher. Whether or not that's true, most educators would agree that on-the-job learning--through an internship, for example--is a valuable complement to classroom technical training. But creating, maintaining and assessing internship experiences for students can be a challenging task--and it's not an activity most teachers or school-to-careers coordinators are formally trained in.

Here are helpful hints and strategies for educators charged with organizing internships for students.

Know your selling points--After identifying learning goals, the next step is to approach employers. If you're starting a new program, your first conversation will have to start with an internship program sales pitch. According to a study by Thomas Bailey, Katherine Hughes and Tavis Barr of the National Center for Research in Vocational Education (NCRVE), businesses and organizations that already participate in internship programs are more willing to participate in other community outreach and philanthropic activities, so these are the best employers to target. These more active organizations also tend to offer effective internship opportunities--in which technical jobs are well-represented --because they are eager for skilled employees in the future. The NCRVE study found that these kinds of businesses are more likely to open the door to interns. But whether you're dealing with a business seasoned in internships and other school-to-careers activities or one that's never hosted an intern before, be sure to mention the main selling points:

* Interns are affordable. They work for little or no pay because the goal is to learn in a real-world environment.

* The business gets a chance to "audition" potential employees.

* Students can learn the skills specific to that business before they are hired for a permanent position.

Speak up and discuss--You may already have a relationship with the employer. Perhaps your school has been placing students there for several years. Maybe you are joining an existing program like the New York City Partnership and Chamber of Commerce's Youth Employment and Education Program, which placed about 8,000 high school students into private-sector internships this past summer. But regardless of how many internship veterans--or rookies--you're working with, it's important to have a detailed conversation about objectives and needs. An internship program is most effective when everyone involved--student, employer and teacher--has collaborated to develop an educational experience that meets everyone's needs and gives everyone an opportunity to learn. The effort you put in up front will pay dividends for everyone in the end.

Whether the internship is a new program or an existing one, you must determine your specific learning objectives and review them on a regular basis--at least annually. These are tangible skills that can be reinforced and enhanced by real-life, hands-on practice. For example, a construction technology student can practice his mastery of certain carpentry skills by interning at a residential construction company. Certain intangibles, like appropriate professional attitude and behavior, also are worth including and you should discuss them with your participating employers once you get them on board.

Because businesses and industries change so rapidly it's crucial to review your programs and learning objectives regularly. This also is an opportunity for you as a teacher to listen, learn and find out if what you're teaching in the classroom is on par with what industry wants in new hires. Actually negotiating the time to communicate with participating employers may take a little finessing, as their schedules may not meld with your teaching schedule. …

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