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.

Getting College Mileage out of a High School Internship

Building on an internship experience often helps the student take a first step toward the future. Internships give a student valuable work experience and that experience can be one basis for making all-important college or career decisions.

Students who have experienced Internships that have a robust site-specific curriculum, strong mentoring opportunities to learn about herself, and opportunities for reflection enable the student to actually learn in the real world. Rather than looking at an internship as a series of “grunt” work activities the student who has completed an internship with a strong curriculum and mentoring support can demonstrate how she used her classroom knowledge and tackled a problem finding a solution that worked in the real world.

Caralee Adams writes in Education Week’s College Bound Blog about how internships can become the basis for the all important college essay, but stresses the importance of not merely using the internship as source of general reporting of what the student did, but rather as a jumping off point to examine best condenser mic a specific aspect of the internship, or use a unique experience to relate a lesson learned or view changed and then explain the change of outlook or action taken as a result of the experience.

(Turning a High School Internship Into a College Essay. August 15, 2013)

If your students are involved in internships, make sure they take the time to reflect on their whole experience so that they, and you, can identify their learning. Guiding them in updating their resume and writing a short insert for their transcript describing their experience can help them take a holistic view of their experience. Writing short blogs or Tweets highlighting their experiences will help them to hone their writing skills and help them remember the rich day to day details of their experiences.

When it is time for them to tackle the college essay not only will they have interesting content but they will have had practice in connecting the big picture of their experience with concise ways of presenting it.

It is not where the student interned, but rather what the student experienced and was able to take away from that experience that will influence his decisions and choices going forward that makes for a good essay or good college interview conversation.

Are Those Pesky Soft Skills Really Important?

Not only are soft skills important, they are critical for success in college and career. Soft Skills are People Skills and have too often been thought of as vague and hard to evaluate. The 21st century has put the focus onto soft skills for success in today’s changing world and educators and employers are beginning to define them as behaviors that can be assessed.

We like Tony Wagner’s list of what he calls Survival Skills:

  • Critical thinking and problem-solving
  • Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  • Agility and adaptability
  • Initiative and entrepreneurship
  • Effective oral and written communication
  • Accessing and analyzing information
  • Curiosity and imagination*

Whether a student is planning on a career after high school or community college or is preparing to apply to a 4 year college or university, demonstrating these skills will help him achieve his goals. More and more high school and college classes today require students to work collaboratively in project teams and show ways in which they can demonstrate these skills in the classroom. A good teacher is not only interested in the project outcome but wants to observe and guide students as they work together to help them develop these critical skills. But is that enough?

Internships Move Skills into the Real World

It’s great for students to work on a team with friends in a classroom but in the real world their friends aren’t around and they find themselves on a team with adults. As interns they are able to observe how these skills are used in the workplace by successful employees. As interns they are expected to demonstrate these 21st century people skills. And as interns they are able to practice them, not just once but many times in their work setting.

An intern is under the umbrella of a school or college so the internship is a learning experience. And often interns say that what they learned most are people skills. And a quality internship program will be able to evaluate the intern’s learning through projects, portfolios, presentations and exhibits. A quality internship program will give the intern an opportunity to show what she has learned through evidence based interviews.
Internships not only help prepare students as they go forward to college and career but they strengthen those “soft” skills allowing them to navigate their way through the changing world of the 21st century.


Closing the Gap: Leveling the Playing Field with Internships

While high school graduation rates are slowly improving there is still much concern about the low rates of graduation of students from a two year college program. Current research shows that fewer than one-third of freshman in a community college complete a certificate, associate degree or transfer to a 4 year program. And it is worse for minority and low income students with only 24 per cent completing their 2 year program.

This is of great concern today because, as the Harvard study, Pathways to Prosperity points out, a certificate or an associate or bachelor’s degree will be critical in getting that well paying job in this new economy.

Too often low income and minority students may not have been exposed to a wide variety of industries and professional opportunities. They may not see the career choices that are available. And they do not see how their education will benefit them throughout their life, not only financially, but in building their self-belief, allowing them to take advantage of new opportunities.

While many community colleges are addressing this problem there is one solution that will keep students on track to graduation.  We know that students who do a quality internship see the value of their education in the real world. Internships today are not only for those students who are in a vocational program but benefit all community college students.

But the internship must be well designed and managed by the college. It must have opportunities for the student to learn new skills that will be transferrable as he moves through life, offer challenging and stretching goals and learning activities, enable the student to build those all important adult-to-adult relationships in a professional environment, allow him to demonstrate his learning and give him exposure to new professions and industries that he may not have even considered.

Every community from small towns to large cities has internship opportunities for community college students. Employers and organizations want to ensure that the next generation has the skills that will lead them to success in the future and are eager to partner with their local community college to ensure that this happens.

Check out these articles that discuss the issue of Improving Community College Graduation Rates.

Community Colleges’ Most Challenging Task: Increase Completion Rates

Washington Post
Report Shows Wide Disparity In College Achievement

Education Trust’s “Charting a Necessary Path: The Baseline Report of Public Higher Education Systems in the Access to Success Initiative,” December 2009