Changing the Culture of the High School Internship Before It’s Too Late

In a recent article in Salon High-Schooler’s free labor: Why the Internship problem will get even worse, Matthew Saccaro looks at the pressure high school, community college and four year college students are under to find and complete an internship. While much has been written about 4 year college graduates’ less than rewarding experiences in internships, Saccaro points out that such unrewarding experiences are now high on the list of experience for high schoolers and undergrads.
Reviewing recent research on internships, Saccaro shows that competition for internships is growing “fiercer each year” especially when high school students and undergrads are demanding an internship so that they can include it on their resume. And this pressure seems to push students into choosing a career field early on in their education.
According to Saccaro, many internship experiences seem to be a series of menial tasks and do not include opportunities where the intern can use his knowledge nor challenge the intern in his thinking.
But this does not have to be the case for the high school or college interns. As the demand for internships rise, more and more schools and colleges are aware that a well-structured, internship with robust learning goals can be an integral part of a student’s learning.
Quality internships with real world learning for the student do not just happen. Too often a student is left on his own to find an internship, interview for the role, find his way in a new environment and take on the tasks assigned to him by the organizations. And the sponsoring organization, too often, is not clear about what expectations to set and how to challenge the intern in his learning. Thus the series of menial tasks.
For an internship to be of value to the student and to the organization or business the school and college must be the driving force. The school and college must:
• Help the student find an internship so that the student has an opportunity to explore a career first hand – this includes helping the student explore the reality of available placements – not everyone can intern at Google or Vogue or the NBA.
• Help the student prepare for the interview for the internship. As competition for internships grow students need to build those interviewing skills that will get them in the door
• Set challenging and site-specific learning goals in collaboration with the sponsoring organization
• Ensure that the student has opportunities to reflect on his learning and to build real world skills
• Set evaluation criteria so that the student can demonstrate what he has learned
• Intervene and revisit agreed upon goals if the internship experience is not living up to expectations.
Internships must be a challenging learning experience for the student and not paid work.
When students wonder “what’s in it for me?” when they think about internships, they need be encouraged to think about something more long term than pay. They need to see they will have the opportunity to try on a career, make professional connections for life, learn to network and work collegially, learn new skills, try on different roles and finally figure out “when am I ever going to use this information?”
Schools and colleges must take on the responsibility of ensuring that internships do not become the competitive, unrewarding experience that so many of today’s graduates have endured.
Internships should not be a competition. They should be an exploration.

Turning “Do you want fries with that?” into an Internship

Many of our high school and community college students work part-time. And many work in the fast food industry. We often talk to students about their experiences and find that they do not see the value in the work they do. They say they are only working for money to pay for college, help out their families or do things with their friends. This work experience, while good in preparing students in the discipline of work, can be much more valuable. Whether the school has a formal internship program or internships are found by individual students so their experience can be put on their resumes, turning a student’s part time job into a quality internship experience will prepare him for the future in a career and higher education.

Making that fast food job a quality internship experience.

Before developing a student’s job as an internship speak with his manager. Assure the manager that any activities the student is asked to do will not interfere with his job task or time. The school needs the support of the manager for the student to succeed and most mangers want to help their workers, especially students, to grow. When you have designed the intern’s learning plan share it with the manager and ask if there is anything he would like to add.

Internship Learning Plan goals and activities

1. Understand the business model: Some fast food businesses are franchises. Others may be individually or family owned and others by a larger corporation. Have the student research the business models using the internet and write a report on them focusing on the model of the business in which he is working.
2. Learn about the Manager’s background: Interview the manger to learn about his experience and skills. Some students are surprised about the skills needed to manage a business. Write a profile of the manager.
3. Understand the training needed for employees: The student will have had some training to do his job but may not understand the training that is needed for other jobs. Have the student review the training material of the company and sit in or participate in any training of new employees. Have the student identify anything that could be added to the training.
4. Understand the customer experience: Fast food depends on fast delivery of product. Have the student do a flow-chart of the customer experience. Also have him to a flow-chart of the logistics from ordering raw product to customer delivery.
5. Understand the challenges of staffing: Have the student develop a staffing plan for one week and review it with the manager. If the business relies on shift workers or all-night workers have the student research the challenges of shift working.
6. Understand the products sold: Have the student list all the food products sold and identify which he thinks are the best sellers and review with his manager to see if he is correct. Have the student link high selling products to location and demographics of the area—families, teenagers, older people so that he sees how product decisions are made.
7. Build critical competencies: Students who work part-time will be familiar with working as a team, customer service and focus on achievement in the job. However, dlink login they need to know how to show what they have learned on their resume and in future interviews and will need the help of the teacher to put their experience into words. (see Internship Quest Seminar Manual for specific ideas)
8. Instead of keeping a journal (the staple of internships) have the student write a series of blogs about his activities and learning and share with his classmates. Remember, we want the student to see the benefit of his work and learning experience and move from any negative feelings he may have about the fast food industry.

It’s not what you did but what you learned

It is not the internship placement or job a student has had that is important to a college and a future employer but what the student learned from his experience. Turning a routine, repetitive job into a quality internship will help the student use his experience and learning to attain his goals.