In a 2018 article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, University of Wisconsin professor and researcher Dr. Matthew T. Hora argued that making internship programs mandatory could cause a host of problems for students’ job prospects and even the local labor market.
His reasoning behind this comes to one simple quote: “Internships are the Wild West in higher education.”
Since this article’s publication, Dr. Hora has launched the Center For Research on College-Workforce Transitions, which is currently working on a national survey on internship programs. This survey will look into access, program structure and student outcomes of internships, exploring and testing the effectiveness of these high-impact practices.
First, The Facts…
There are some very compelling reasons why internships and co-op programs make sense for graduates.
- A recent study from the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 65% of employers are looking for students with relevant work experience.
- 56% of employers responding to the NACE study said they would prefer work experience that came from previous internship or co-op programs.
- A study from Gallup found that former interns are more than twice as likely to land a good job after graduation than their peers.
With reasons like that, why shouldn’t every student have an internship?
There are several problems with mandatory internship programs--from many of them being unpaid and the issues therein to under-resourced universities struggling to staff and manage successful programs.
While these concerns are valid, colleges and universities looking to institute or improve internship or co-op programs could go a long way towards answering a number of Dr. Hora’s objections by focusing on 3 key improvements.
#1: Partner With The Local Business Community
When Suitable partner Shippensburg set out to create their Raider Ready program, they had one focus in mind--improving soft skills to make students “workforce ready.”
This focus on workforce readiness came directly out of partnerships with the local business community. In creating internship programs and other opportunities for students and graduates, Shippensburg administrators began to hear feedback that students were missing some soft skills that were critical for success.
Shippensburg set out to prepare students to meet the demands of the local economy through the Raider Ready program. They created a suite of activities that could be scaffolded and injected with achievement markers to keep students engaged, all while giving students access to resources that would prepare them for the workforce. These activities include:
- Resume-building workshops
- Online resume seminars
- Interview training
- Time management training
- Leadership & communication lectures with top university executives
By partnering with the local business community, schools can answer one of Dr. Hora’s key objections to expanding internship programs: a lack of willing and impactful business partners.
#2: Embrace Remote Internships
As schools and institutions all over the globe have dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, remote learning and remote work have become the norm for students and employers alike.
- Only 4% of CEOs said they plan to expand office space in the next year, according to a recent survey from Deloitte & Fortune Magazine.
- A recent Gartner survey found that 90% of HR leaders plan to allow employees to work remotely, even after the COVID-19 vaccine is widely available.
This is great news for students, corporations and internship coordinators alike.
With remote learning, a school’s physical location no longer needs to be the barrier it once was. Remote learning programs allow your school to connect students with the best and brightest in their chosen field--even if those folks are not right in your backyard. As for employers--they will love having a larger and potentially more qualified pool of potential applicants to choose from.
For schools looking to improve internship programs, Suitable can help. From facilitating remote training to managing things like reflection and skill development as the internship progresses, administrators can collect key data and students can add to their co-curricular transcripts and Experiential Learning Records as they go.
#3: Make A Compelling Case For Resources
One of the most common questions to building groundbreaking programs with Suitable is coincidentally one of the same ones Dr. Hora points out in his piece: a lack of available resources to do it right.
There are a few things our partner schools have done to answer these objections and get the resources they need. Here are just a few:
- Tie your internship, career-readiness and engagement initiatives to core competencies. Every school ought to have core values and skills they plan to instill in every single graduate. Most schools even spell out in their strategic plans what those goals are. If you can tie your programming to core competencies that help schools achieve these strategic objectives, it will open a lot of doors.
- Partner with existing initiatives. If you know your school has an objective that they are putting resources towards and you can tie that to your internship or career-readiness initiative, you are much more likely to unlock resources.
- Help students build an experiential learning record. With Suitable, administrators can track student progress throughout high-impact practices like internships. Each step towards completion is added to a student’s co-curricular transcript and experiential learning record, which they can then use to make themselves more employable for that first job, and help advisors make better, more informed recommendations.
Presenting these upsides, schools may be more inclined to focus on internship, co-op and career readiness programming, making their graduates more competitive in what is destined to be a challenging job market going forward.