Company Internships: A Two-Way Street to Success

Internships are an integral part of many companies’ recruitment plans, and rightly so. They help up-and-coming members of an industry gain necessary exposure to the day-to-day aspects of their careers and acquire the entry-level experience crucial to finding a job in their chosen field.

From the company’s perspective, internship programs help them find and retain talent early on and shape that talent to fit the company’s mold. Unfortunately, it’s easy for the company to forget that internships are also meant to be learning experiences. In the worst of situations, interns wind up as cheap or unpaid labor performing menial tasks. These conditions have not escaped the notice of government or schools, who are enacting stringent guidelines to ensure that companies don’t take advantage of their interns. As staffing experts, if we use internships as part of our recruitment plans, it is important to remember that these programs are a two-way street.

As Senior Staffing Specialist, I have the responsibility of administering GAI’s Scholarship Program. The program, now in its 6th year, selects one Point Park University (Pittsburgh, PA) student and one student from another university for a 10-week paid internship. Upon completion of the program, each intern receives a $5,000 scholarship. GAI’s Scholarship Program is designed to give interns a chance to learn. We expose them to as many different facets of the company’s business as possible—not just their individual area of expertise. The interns spend 75% of their time with GAI working with groups in their field of study and the remaining 25% to activities unrelated to their studies. So, for example, we may have our electrical engineering interns delineating wetlands, and our environmental engineering interns partnering with civil engineering groups. The idea behind this holistic approach is to teach the interns about what makes the entire company run, so they are better prepared to join GAI when they graduate.

This method isn’t always met with enthusiasm. Point Park University intern Andrew Czopek noted, “When I was first given the schedule that showed me [the rounded approach], I thought it was a little strange.” It is difficult for people, even young people, to step outside their comfort zone—but outside our comfort zone is where we learn and grow. Internship programs should push their participants not just with workload, but by expanding their understanding. Ultimately, Andrew found that the parts of the internship unrelated to his field of study were “quite engaging.” He concluded, “I learned a lot about the big picture and overall project lifecycle, down to the details that each department brings to the table.”

Interns are a valuable source of human capital, but only if employers are willing to put forth the effort to ensure that interns grow and learn. “I was able to apply what I have learned in school to many different things I have done here at GAI, and I hope to apply what I have learned here to my last year in school and beyond to a future career,” voiced Shippensburg University senior and GAI intern Will Parisi.

Even if interns are unpaid, they need to be given the opportunity to push their boundaries. In testing their limits, we can see what kind of people they truly are, which allows us to make better hiring decisions later on. Ensuring that internship programs are a two-way street will help drive your company’s hiring forward.

Senior Staffing Specialist Chris Branson can be reached at 412.476.2000.

Click here to read a Q & A session with this year’s Point Park University intern, Andrew Czopek.

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