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Building Your Pipeline Through Internships

Posted by: Gary Plummer on Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Internships. What are they? Why are they important? Why should I create an internship program? How can I make the intern’s experience a positive, educational one? How much do I have to pay them? Where can I find them? These were the questions that Connie Dietz, Director of the Office of Cooperative Education and Work-Based Learning at Wichita State University, sought to answer in the Chamber’s first Taking Care of Business seminar of 2014. Those attending walked away with not only the answers to those questions, but also with a guide for how to create an internship program and a template to help craft a strong job description for an intern. The basics: a definition of internships According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, an internship is “a form of experiential learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional setting. Internships give students the opportunity to gain valuable applied experience and make connections in professional fields they are considering for career paths; internships also give employers the opportunity to guide and evaluate talent.” You also may have heard of the term “co-op” or “cooperative education” as a form of work-based learning. For more information on the differences between an internship and a co-op, visit the Wichita State Co-op Office website here. The bottom line is that by providing work-based learning to college students, Chamber members can help build a bridge between the classroom and the real world for the next generation of workers. The importance of hiring interns Interns, and a strong internship program, can be a long-term source of talent for individual companies and for the Wichita community in general. According to the 2010 Destination ICT study, almost 50% of internship students accept permanent positions with their internship employers. At WSU, 72% of students who work with the Co-op Office remain in Wichita after graduation. Those numbers indicate that the more quality internship programs Wichita employers have, the more local graduates we can retain. For companies who hire interns from outside the Wichita area, we can also attract more young people to the city. These are going to be young professionals who already have experience working in an office environment and who have developed some of the skills that they can’t or don’t learn in the classroom. The benefit to your company During the presentation, Dietz gave several reasons why you should consider creating an internship program. For example, you can work with an individual for anywhere from sixteen weeks to three years before they graduate from college – that’s one long interview! When you build a quality internship program, you also create ambassadors for your organization. For those smaller businesses out there, that’s a great source of word-of-mouth advertising that helps your business’s name gain recognition on campus. And according to that 2010 study, the retention of college graduates after five years of employment is 30% greater for internship graduates. That reduces your long-term training and recruitment costs, a potentially significant return on your investment. Creating a quality program Of the 15 tips provided for creating a quality internship program, Dietz highlighted a few that are key for all employers regardless of size:
  1. Provide interns with real, collegiate level work assignments
  2. Hold orientations for all involved
  3. Have an intern manager
  4. Encourage team involvement
  5. Offer training and encourage outside classes
  6. Conduct exit interviews
To see more tips, view the full presentation here. Most important, conduct an organizational audit before getting started. Make sure you have support from the executive level, and that everyone involved knows the goals of the program. Evaluate the human resources you have available to support the intern(s) to ensure they’ll have a positive experience. And ensure there are physical resources available for the student – a desk, computer, phone, and anything else they’ll need to complete the assignments for the duration of the internship. The big question: how much do I have to pay an intern? The answer: it depends on a lot of different factors. If you are even considering hiring unpaid interns, be sure you consult with an employment lawyer or university contact first, especially in for-profit companies. Dietz shared the six criteria for an internship to qualify as unpaid during the presentation, and you can also find out more in this Small Business Administration article. For an example, the average wages for WSU students in the past year were the following: $13.17/hour for business students; $15.09/hour for engineering; and $11.08/hour for liberal arts and sciences. The actual amount will vary depending on the specific major (accounting usually pays more than marketing, for example) and the class status, among other criteria. Finding the right interns Now that you’re convinced it’s time to start an internship program, here’s how you can find the students to hire. The local universities usually advertise internships to their students, whether it’s through the formal program at WSU or through faculty/staff contacts at other universities. An internship or career services office is usually the first place to start. To recruit from outside the local universities, you can also utilize the YPW program Launch Wichita at http://www.launchwichita.com/. Chamber members can post internships for free through this site, which reaches students from across the country. You can also find resources on hiring. Plus, the interns you hire can also use the site to learn more about things to do in Wichita. During the summer – prime time for most internship programs – YPW also hosts the Intern Return program as a way to connect your interns to the city, to each other, and to YPs currently working in Wichita. The goal of the program is to have them return to Wichita once they graduate, of course! YPW’s corporate investors can participate in the program for free, and other companies can sign their interns up for a fee. You can contact Suzy Finn for more information about this program. In closing, I’d like to offer another tidbit from the Destination ICT study: By linking earning and learning more closely together – with an economic incentive – the region sends a strong message that there is a partnership among business and education and that both understand their role in developing the region’s next generation workforce. Suzy Finn Executive Director Young Professionals of Wichita


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