Internships That Work

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).

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