Testing the Water: A Survey on HRD Internships

By Patton, Patricia L.; Dial, Doreen F. | Training & Development Journal, October 1988 | Go to article overview

Testing the Water: A Survey on HRD Internships


Patton, Patricia L., Dial, Doreen F., Training & Development Journal


Testing the Water A Survey on HRD Interships

Being an intern is a little like getting your feet wet before going off the high dive: you know you want to go swimming, but you'd like to test the water before taking the big plunge. It makes sense for a person interested in a professional field to see what it's all about before diving headfirst into a new career. Part-time or temporary interships are a viable training method that give both students and professionals making a mid-life career change the opportunity to explore new ventures.

Before the mid-seventies, traditional paths of entry into human resource development positions were primarily non-academic. people entered from diverse fields such as sales, production, personnel, teaching, and administration. Success in the HRD field varied as much as entry-level competencies and organizational survival techniques, says Robert Bove in a 1984 Training & Development Journal article, "HRD Yesterday." Yet in today's highly competitive marketplace, most people hoping to enter this specialized job area need some relevant education or experience to open the door.

Valued training

Internships are a valid part of job education systems and a requirement in many certificate and degree programs. They are a form of on-the-job training in which people gain supervised experience and practical knowledge that is relevant to a specific field. An internship offers a chance to learn about the roles and functions of practitioners in an organization. Appropriate learning and training experiences give interns a feel for the dynamics of a real organization, as well as feedback on their work without the threat of a full performance appraisal, say Blalac and Wallington in a 1985 Training & Development Journal article, "From Backpack to Briefcase." Internships are also good ways to boost a person's self-confidence and marketability.

Organizations themselves can benefit greatly from intership programs. Although interns may work at a slower pace than practicing professionals, they are valued because they are eager to learn, cost little or nothing, and keep the professional training staff on its toes with their inquisitive nature and fresh ideas. They are also a valuable resource for future hiring. As the academic and business communities recognize the mutual benefit of "learn-while-you-work" experiences, more and more employers are saying "yes!" to internships.

Internship programs in HRD are quite new, and literature on their rate of success in meeting the learning and training needs of interns and the profession is scarce. In an attempt to target local HRD activity and pinpoint potential internship sites for future San Diego State University students, we conducted a survey of 125 local HRD professionals. Our purpose was to find out what practitioners think about internships and to present a realistic picture of what career aspirants can expect from such experiences. The results reveal some interesting perceptions.

Method

Subject. We chose 125 members of ASTD's San Diego Chapter as a sample group for the survey. The participants were selected from the 1986 Membership Directory based on their professional titles. To be eligible for selection, individuals had to be

* employed by an educational institution;

* a member of a human resources team;

* a career or employment counselor;

* involved in various personnel functions;

* or an HRD consultant.

The survey group comprised 45 men and 80 women, all of whom either were employed currently in the HRD field or had been recently. Six professionals were chosen to help conduct structured interviews of participants--three were university faculty involved in HRD training, and three were HRD practitioners.

Materials. To gather information from the chapter participants, we developed a survey questionnaire modeled after those used in similar studies, such as the ASTD Competency Study. …

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