July 7, 2013

Internships a win-win situation

Paul Grasso, Just Sayin'

— “I can’t get a job because I don’t have any experience, but how can I get experience if I can’t get a job?” It’s the most vexing question students ask me when I speak to Herb Carpenter’s Professionalism class at SUNY Plattsburgh.

It’s a conundrum considering that, in today’s economy, recent college graduates are competing against experienced workers even for entry-level positions; it can also be demoralizing.

So, how can a college student get the experience needed to land that first job?

My answer: participate in an internship. Participating in an internship is an excellent way to gain “real world” experience, and it’s a great resume builder.

But what exactly is an internship?

An internship is a three-way partnership among an institution of higher learning, the internship site and the student that creates a work experience in which students set clear learning objectives that connect course content to a real-world employment setting.

It’s an opportunity for the student to learn the difference between the theory taught in the classroom and the practical application of that theory in the workplace.

Think of an intern as “a professional in training. They occupy a space somewhere between being a student and being an employee, the goal being to help close the gap between school and work.

Internships can take many forms. They can be full-time or part-time, paid or unpaid, for academic credit or not, they can be during the summer or the school year. Regardless of the form they take, all internships have value and the same basic purpose, to provide a meaningful workplace experience for the student.

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 to learn new skills, gain real work experience, and to begin building a professional network.

SUNY Plattsburgh and Clinton Community College both operate very good internship programs. The challenge they face is increasing the number of private-sector companies offering internships and the variety of academic disciplines in which they offer internships.

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 for which they don’t see the benefits of participating in an internship program. 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 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.

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 is properly aligned. Plus, you might find an eager and smart intern who fits in perfectly with the 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 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.

▶ Offering an internship is also part of a business of being a good corporate citizen.

TDC has a summer intern, an intelligent, capable, hard-working woman from Chazy. She’s also fun to have around. She’s helping us on a variety of projects, not the least of which is creating an internship manual for employers. The manual will be a guide that employers can use to ensure an internship is a mutually beneficial experience.

Our goal is to 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 A. Grasso Jr. is president and CEO of The Development Corporation, 190 Banker Road, Suite 500, Plattsburgh.