Internships That Work

January 7, 2010

A new report from the London-based Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), “Internships that Work—A Guide for Employers”—reminds us of how much we all gain from well run internship programs in our workplaces.

“There are clear business benefits to running a good internship scheme, such as gaining a new and motivated member of staff, bringing new skills and perspectives to your organisation and potentially improving productivity,” the report’s authors note (p. 3).

As is the case with effective mentoring or volunteer programs, success rests on the adoption and implementation of straightforward policies and procedures. Recruitment is done openly and in a way which matches interns’ skills and qualifications with what an organization needs (p. 4). Well designed orientation sessions should be offered to interns to “make an intern’s transition into the world of work a smooth and enjoyable experience,” and the sessions can include everything from an introduction to your organization’s history, policies, and achievements to a tour of the facilities where interns will work (p. 6). Interns should be treated in the same positive way that paid staff are treated and their responsibilities should be clearly outlined before they begin their internships (p. 7). Good supervision and effective performance reviews add to the potential for success for both the organizations and the interns (p. 8). A final review meeting which includes an exit interview and provides the intern with a letter of recommendation can be effective both for the organization and the intern so that all parties benefit from the time they have spent together (p. 9).

Intern program checklists included in the final pages of the CIPD report provide additional useful resources for those managing or considering the possibility of managing internship programs that work for all involved, and a one-page internship agreement outlining the organization’s and the intern’s responsibilities is a wonderful, easy-to-adapt tool for those seeking to create an effective program.

Personal experience with internship programs confirms, for me, that the writers of the report are right on target. The internship program drawing Master of Library and Information Science students from San Jose State University into the San Francisco Public Library system used each of these elements and benefitted tremendously from collaboration with a responsive campus liaison, Jane Fisher (Assistant Director for Research & Professional Practice). She worked closely with those of us on library staff to develop effective job descriptions for the prospective interns, attract first-rate candidates, and match them with great staff supervisors. The result was that students earned credit while completing projects which benefitted the library and gave the students experience they might not otherwise have acquired before entering the job market. And it wasn’t unusual for the students to parlay that experience into paid positions within the San Francisco Public Library system or other library systems in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Internships are an essential part of the career ladder in many professions,” the report’s authors note. “They are part and parcel of a modern, flexible economy and they are useful both for the interns and for employers…”

If we, as trainer-teacher-learners, can facilitate the development of successful internship programs, we once again not only prove the value of what we do but make a major contribution to the success of the organizations and customers we ultimately serve.

For assistance with creating, implementing, and improving internship or mentoring programs, please contact Paul Signorelli (paul@paulsignorelli.com).


Sun Microsystems, Mentoring, and Communities of Learning

December 23, 2009

It isn’t often that a report emanating from a global corporation offers small libraries and nonprofit organizations some much needed guidance and inspiration, but Sun Microsystems has accomplished exactly that with its “Sun Mentoring: 1996-2009,” by Katy Dickinson, Tanya Jankot, and Helen Gracon.

“Sun Mentoring” is both a report and a user’s handbook for anyone interested in designing and implementing a mentoring program, and it doesn’t much matter that the project is enormous, having matched more than 7,000 mentors and protégés worldwide between 1996 and 2009. Smaller organizations looking to create a program with much smaller numbers of participants will benefit from the details contained within the report. It covers topics including formal vs. informal mentoring, mentor selection systems, matching mentors and protégés, best practices for mentors, and mentoring in good times as well as bad times.

What is striking here for anyone who reads between the lines is that what works in that enormous global program can just as easily be replicated in settings with fewer resources since the principles remain constant regardless of the size of the organization being served. And the principles are equally adaptable. At Sun, for example, “people usually join a mentoring program because they are curious and want to learn, or are ambitious and motivated to improve their career, or are stuck personally or professionally and want to find a new way to proceed,” the writers note on the first page of the introduction to the report. That summary doesn’t sound much different from what we see among our library and nonprofit colleagues. The Sun program, furthermore, benefits tremendously from careful matching of mentors and protégés, from having well defined goals and objectives, and from engaging people who genuinely want to learn from each other; none of these elements are beyond the capabilities of even the smallest organizations.

When we look at all the components which coalesce to create successful mentoring programs, we begin to realize that they parallel the components of a successful workplace learning and performance program. They start with individuals, grow to meet increasing needs, and contribute to the development of a community of learners with far-reaching impacts for individuals, organizations, and the customers they serve. And for those who want to know that the effort produces results, the Sun authors conclude (in section 11 of the report) that mentoring “returns good value for the time and money it takes. ROI (return on investment) on mentoring can be 1,000% or better and grows as the program matures.” Who could ask for more?

Those interested in learning more about how to organize a successful mentoring program within a library or nonprofit organization will find plenty of guidance in “Mentors and Protégés: Creating Successful Workplace Programs,” the new online, self-paced course I’ve written for the LE@D (Lifelong Education @ Desktop) project through the University of North Texas.


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