How might we enable our community to grow smarter through robust workforce development? How might we strengthen the capacity of our organizations to attract and retain talent? How might we expand students’ access to hands-on learning experiences that supplement what they learn in the classroom?
Internships—if done well—can fulfill all three of these aspirations. On June 22, Grow Smarter held a workshop for local business leaders to learn about the value of internships and what can be done to make them successful.
Janet Hall, Founding Partner of Destination Better, opened the workshop by outlining how there is a significant opportunity to develop and retain talent through internships. She was followed by Chris Steinocher, President and CEO of the Chamber, who explained that coordinated education and training is one of the six primary themes found in the Grow Smarter Plan because it plays an essential role helping our city achieve inclusive prosperity. Further highlighting the Chamber’s commitment to promoting internships, Tom Lally shared that the Chamber’s Sustainability Committee formed an Internship Working Group “to develop a sustainable program that creates a streamlined process and links local university and college students with intern positions at Chamber member businesses.”
Several keys to successful internships were shared. Amanda Peters, Employer Relations Coordinator at USFSP, shared that it is important for organizations to ensure interns have specific learning objectives, tactical goals and a clear understanding of how their work connects to departmental and organization-level goals. Melena Postolowski, Director of Internships and Employer Relations at Eckerd College, emphasized that organizations should complete signed agreements, provide knowledgeable mentors and create regular feedback loops. Official guidance from NACE on the responsibilities of host organizations can be found here. Jacob Wortock, Employment and Internship Coordinator at St. Petersburg College, explained that organizations can help interns grow by focusing on interns’ strengths and career goals, keeping them busy and directed toward learning objectives and providing opportunities for increasing responsibility.
Providing a host-side perspective, Tarah Harkins, Director of Campus Recruiting and Pipeline Development at Raymond James, shared that the company’s internship program consists of five main components: development opportunities, team building, corporate citizenship (i.e., philanthropy), relevant tasks and talent pipeline strategy. She went on to recommend that at least 70% of entry-level hires come from a company’s internship program. Alicia Branon, Recruitment Program Manager at Southwest Florida Water Management District, advocated for providing interns with a variety of experiences, citing her organization’s experience that providing “both in-the-field and in-the-office trainings” has enabled their interns to develop a stronger understanding of their organization. Ryan McNulty, Talent Acquisition Partner at Tech Data, emphasized the importance of teamwork, sharing that “our main goal for them is to make sure they collaborate.” Finally, all three panelists agreed that actively engaging in campus recruiting can help organizations build a strong campus brand, enlarge their applicant pool and attract the best talent possible.
Well-designed internships can create tremendous value for the community, for host organizations and for students alike. How might you make a difference by taking one step to strengthen your organization’s internship program or create one if it does not yet exist?