Internship and fellowship programs expand youth access to experiences, opportunities, and skill development, while providing critical labor for the employing institution. Here, we explore some best practices for counties seeking to expand internship programs.
Internships and career readiness programs are increasing in importance. This is true for youth seeking experience and opportunities ahead of college or professional careers, as well as employers struggling to fill vacancies in an unusually complex labor market.
K-12, an online education policy and reporting site, reports:
Experts suggest having an internship in high school can be a highly valuable experience for students, helping them learn how professional environments operate, gauge their interest in different careers, and begin tackling real-world problems.
Yet while 79% of high schoolers were interested in work-based learning experiences, just 34% knew of opportunities for students their age and only 2% had completed internships, according to a youth career readiness guide released in March by American Student Assistance, a nonprofit focused on helping secondary students navigate career opportunities.
Counties often utilize internships to expand capacity, strengthen the pipeline into public service, and to fill outstanding labor needs. While the tips listed below are geared toward school districts, they are translatable for others seeking to expand internship programs, including county governments. Here’s what K-12 suggests are best practices, adapted for county needs:
- Prioritize paid internships: Counties should try to offer paid internships when possible, and school systems should help students identify paid positions. “Getting paid is especially important for students in underserved communities and those who would be the first in their families to go to college”
- Make it attractive to future employers: “Many employers want to expand and diversify their talent pool, and offering internships can help meet that goal … Training and supervising interns can also be a useful experience for managers and employees who are preparing for management roles.”
- Garner the support of leadership: “Getting buy-in from top administrators, particularly superintendents and principals, is a major ingredient for success of an internship program.” The same can be applied to counties — garnering the support of agency heads and program managers can help identity resources for internship expansion, ready-to-go projects and roles, and priority positions to fill.
- Start small: Counties or school systems with limited capacity can “start by inviting guest speakers, setting up job shadowing opportunities, and doing ‘virtual externships.'”
- Work around student schedules: Schools and employers should both provide flexible work schedules and environments, like after school or virtual internships. “Schools must adjust class schedules to ensure students are available when employers need them.”
- Make sure the work is meaningful: Even if you only need interns for things like clerical work, you can still provide a meaningful experience by exposing interns to county operations, leaders, and other opportunities.”Internships should consist of more than menial work so students can acquire work skills and learn to problem-solve in real-life scenarios, which in turn gives students a real sense of accomplishment.”
- Match local labor needs with internship opportunities: It’s “essential to match internship opportunities with local labor force needs, particularly in career and technical education fields.” Counties can gauge labor needs in their unique geographical market, but should also consider the range of needs within county government — check in with various agencies and departments to identify labor gaps that could be filled by interns.
- Monitor everyone’s experience: Regularly check-in with the intern, their school or supporting institution, their guardians, and their internship supervisor, and, “at the end of the internship, wrap up by getting feedback from everyone involved.”
- Provide additional support: Consider the needs and potential gaps for youth to participate in an internship with your county, like transportation or office technology, and identify opportunities to support interns by meeting these needs.