It’s March, spring is in the air (along with a ton of snow), March Madness will soon be upon us and students at both Clinton Community College and SUNY Plattsburgh are preparing to participate in internships with various companies around the county.
I’m a strong proponent of internships — as long as they’re carefully structured. Properly structured (internships shouldn’t be just grabbing coffee and making copies), an internship complements the learning that occurs in the classroom. It helps the student learn new skills, gain real work experience and begin building a professional network.
Swarovski’s Leeann Pray runs an excellent internship program that’s a model for other companies.
Unfortunately, not as many companies participate in an internship program as you might imagine. Starting an internship program can be challenging, especially for companies whose human-resources function is located somewhere else besides Clinton County. Most plant managers have more than a full-time job meeting productions quotas without the added responsibility of overseeing an intern.
A common concern expressed by companies is that they “don’t have time to run an internship program.” My experience has been that some companies see the “care and feeding” of an intern as “extra work” for which they don’t have time and don’t see the benefits of participating. It’s a valid concern, especially if an internship is not properly structured.
A properly structured internship program matches (matching is the key) an intern to a company based on the work that the company needs done to the skills and the academic discipline the intern is studying. It takes a little work on the front end but pays big dividends on the back end.
But that’s short-term thinking, because internships are worth the effort. Companies that hire interns have access to a high-quality, cost-effective workforce. An internship program can help develop into an entry-level talent pipeline as well as a way to get real work accomplished. Interns are knowledgeable, energetic and bring a creative and fresh perspective to the workplace.
Internships also strengthen the relationship between the business community and the academic community. The strengthened relationship allows companies to communicate directly with CCC or SUNY about changing skill requirements and trends in technology. I can’t overemphasize the importance of a strong relationship between businesses and educators. As executive director of the local Workforce Investment Board, we hosted, with a lot of assistance from the business community, two forums on Connecting Business, Education and the Community.
Everyone in attendance agreed that improving the relationship between businesses and schools was essential. A vibrant internship program spanning the region would go a long way toward strengthening that relationship between business and education.
So what are some of the benefits of participating in an internship program?
• Working with potential future employees. Internship programs can create/strengthen the connection to education to ensure that supply and demand of skill sets are aligned properly. Plus, you might find an eager and smart intern who fits in perfectly with your company.
• Helping to reverse the “brain drain” and keep talented young people in the region. It always surprises me when college students express their unfamiliarity with the international “flavor” of companies not only in TDC’s industrial parks but also in the region. Students participating in internships develop local connections and are more likely to stay in the North Country post-graduation.
• Mentoring interns, especially for staff who are new supervisors, helps build stronger leadership and management skills that can enhance a company’s teamwork and efficiency on other projects.
• Internships are a good way to support students and help them gain experience, strengthen their resumes, learn the difference between theory and practice and further develop their professional networks.
• Offering an internship is also part of a business being a good corporate citizen. Participating in an internship program not only helps students jump start their careers, it enhances the local workforce as a whole.
Internships do take time and effort, but it’s time and energy well spent. Internships will also help respond to a concern employers expressed in a survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities that found that 73 percent of employers stated the need for higher education “to put more emphasis on applying knowledge and skills to a real world setting.”
What better way to accomplish that than through internships?
Paul Grasso is the president & CEO of The Development Corporation of Clinton County.