Student internships, also called practicums, are situations where students work for an employer for a specified period of time to learn about a particular industry or occupation. Student's workplace activities may include special projects, a sample of tasks from different jobs, or tasks from a single occupation. These may be paid or unpaid experiences. Internships are supervised, structured work experiences that involve the practical application of previously studied theory for which school credit is awarded. Many times the internship is a required component of the program. Credit hours and the length of the internship as well as the intensity may vary depending on the course of study. There is a strong emphasis on coordination and integration between work site and classroom learning.
Benefits to Students
Internships offer students the opportunity to develop needed work skills while participating in the world of work, often earning school credit as well. Students gain practical skills in their chosen career area and have an opportunity to learn
work terminology, work climate, and business/industry protocol. Most importantly, they have a chance to decide if the career area is really appropriate for them.
Benefits to Schools
Internships enable schools to offer students a more intense study of a career area. In addition, schools can document and assess a student's level of skill in a performance-based manner before program completion.
Benefits to Employers
Internships offer employers the opportunity to work with schools and get real tasks accomplished with students/employees who already have some skills and training. By offering internship placements, an employer helps develop a potential pool of trained workers in the employer's industry.
Setting Up an Internship
Identify Potential Work Sites
The first step in setting up an internship experience is finding individuals and organizations who are willing to take on the responsibility of working with a student. Many schools and post secondary institutions mail interest forms to employers within the community to establish a pool of possible work sites. Instructors and teachers familiar with the specific career area are good resources to assist in identifying potential internship sites. Students may also identify possible internship sites on their own. In order to be able to continue to offer students internships, an organization must maintain a pool of potential work sites that match up with student educational and career objectives. Successful work sites are a valuable resource that can be utilized over and over.
Choose an Internship Supervisor
By definition, an internship is a supervised, structured work experience. Choosing a supervisor who can build a good relationship with both the student and employer is critical to the success of the internship. Sometimes the supervisor is the work-based learning coordinator, a teacher, or a professional in the career area of the internship. They may or may not receive pay for supervising the student. The supervisor must be aware of the culture of the career area as well as the specific skills needed in the internship.
Student placement in an internship can be arranged by either the school, post secondary institution, or the student. Connecting students with work sites that will meet their needs and provide relevant experiences is the most important aspect of planning the internship. Employers will want to interview prospective interns to ensure a good match. Schools may allow students who are already employed at a job relevant to their studies to earn internship credit for their job experience, provided that the supervisor formally approves of the site and learning objectives.
The internship supervisor, student, and employer should arrange a work schedule that is convenient for all of them. It is best if the schedule is consistent from week to week so that the work site can prepare meaningful work for the student intern and reinforce positive work habits.
Prepare Student Interns
Students need to be thoroughly prepared before beginning an internship. In addition to classroom preparation that focuses on career research, academic and technical skills that will be applied at the internship site, there are practical concerns to be addressed as well. Many schools and post secondary institutions provide students with the following needed information in a handbook format; others assign the responsibility to the internship supervisor.
• Internship agreements. The internship agreement outlines the responsibilities of the work site supervisor, the internship supervisor, and the student. It also covers the purpose and academic and technical skill expectations for the experience. The forms should be signed by the student and work site supervisor, as well as the internship supervisor.
• Outline of dress and behavior expectations. Let students know that dress and behavior standards in the workplace are different than those at school. Remind students that they are representing the school as well as themselves. The supervisor should be aware of the dress codes at the internship site and discuss appropriate attire with each student. If uniforms are required, make sure the student is able, both financially and practically, to obtain one before they start the internship.
• Learning Objectives. Students, work site supervisors, and internship supervisors need to work together to develop a list of goals and learning objectives for the internship experience. The list should include skills the student needs to acquire and/or practice and concepts the student needs to understand and apply. Goals and learning objectives should
relate directly to the classroom work and, for secondary students, to the academic standards.
• Checklist. Give students a checklist which includes everything they need to do to prepare for the internship. Preparing resumes, developing learning objectives, contacting employers, getting appropriate forms signed, arranging schedules and transportation (if necessary), and doing background research are all possible checklist items.
• Evaluation materials. Students will be evaluated by both their internship supervisor and their work site supervisor throughout the internship. Provide students with copies of the evaluation forms so that they will be informed about the basis of their evaluation. You may also ask students to keep a journal of their experience and learning.
Prepare Work Site Supervisors
Work site supervisors must be thoroughly prepared for the internship. Make sure that they are aware of everything that they are expected to do and are comfortable working with a student intern. Many school and post secondary institutions prepare a handbook for work site supervisors which contains a combination of the following:
• An overview of legal responsibilities. There are many legal issues that work site supervisors need to be aware of, such as safety concerns and child labor, discrimination, and sexual harassment laws. Make sure that work site supervisors understand their legal responsibilities and potential liabilities in advance.
• Advice for working with young adults. Many professionals are unaccustomed to the unique challenges of communicating and working with young adults. This is especially true for internships at the secondary level. Remind work site supervisors that they may be faced with student attitudes and expectations that may seem unrealistic in the workplace.
• Checklist. Employers will probably find a checklist very useful. Checklist items might include arranging meeting times, planning with the internship supervisor to insure that academic and technical skill requirements are being met, signing internship agreements, arranging student work space (if appropriate), assigning a work site supervisor, and informing students about the business' policies and procedures.
• Evaluation material. Provide employers with the forms that will be used to evaluate student performance.
Evaluation and Reflection
Give everyone involved in the internship an opportunity to reflect on what they learned and to discuss the effectiveness of the internship experience. Students and employers should be asked to evaluate the internship and their evaluations should be used to effect continuous improvement.
Connecting Internship to the Classroom
It is important to make the internship meaningful by connecting it to classroom learning and, at the secondary level, to academic standards. Connecting activities can take many forms and should take place at all stages of the internship experience.
• Students research the career field and specific organizations in which they will be working.
• Students write about their preconceptions and expectations related to the organization in which their experiences will take place.
• Students and teachers discuss professional standards for behavior and dress.
• Teachers emphasize practical applications of the concepts and skills they teach in class.
• Students learn academic and entry level job skills they will need at the work site.
• Students and teachers develop a training plan which outlines the student's learning objectives.
• Students learn actual job and employability skills by participating in work activities.
• Students observe and participate in practical applications of academic concepts.
• Students work toward achieving individual goals and objectives that are linked to academic standards.
Seminars. Seminars provide students with opportunities to better understand their internship and enhance their learning. Seminar schedules can vary from three meetings per term to as often as once a week. Curriculum can include:
• Job search skills and techniques (such as resume writing and interviewing skills);
• How to develop goals and objectives;
• Reflective assignments (such as weekly logs and journals);
• Education and discussion on workplace issues such as sexual harassment, workplace ethics, managing conflict, responding to criticism, labor laws, discrimination, and professionalism;
• Workplace skills and techniques related to the specific internship;
• Guest speakers;
• Round-table discussions;
• Collaborative learning activities; and
• Development of a portfolio that includes (for example) a description of the internship, agreements and training plans, photographs and descriptions of exemplary work or interesting experiences, resume, cover letter, evaluations, etc.
• Students write about the difference between their expectations and the reality of the workplace.
• Students and teachers discuss the connections they see between classroom learning and the workplace.
• Students and and teachers together evaluate the students' progress toward their learning objectives.
• Students continue their career development in light of what they have learned during the work experience.