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II. Organizing an Internship Program

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II. Organizing an Internship Program

The coordinator is crucial to an effective internship program. He or she should be carefully selected as one who is knowledgeable in, and dedicated to, the values of work-based learning. The coordinator will generally have final responsibility for development and implementation of the internship program, and will work with students, parents, teachers, mentors, supervisors, site and district administrators, and business to bring together a rigorous and valuable experience. This is a pivotal role, requiring interest, dedication, and time.

The coordinator may be an academic or vocational teacher, a school-to-work or cooperative education coordinator, a high school or district administrator, or an Academy coordinator. Any of these professionals can do a fine job of putting the program into effect, provided they the proper support. The coordinator must have the trust and backing of the school and district’s top administrators. Superintendents and principals can show their support for the program by discussing it in positive terms with the faculty, local business representatives, and community members. They also need to allot time to the coordinator to run the program.

NOTE: Remember, business generally takes place during regular work hours (typically Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.). A teacher with classroom responsibilities during this time may have difficulty developing necessary partnerships and keeping appointments with business partners. Extra preparation time, some release from the school schedule, is necessary for this to take place. Try to schedule this time around the lunch period – business can be done at this time, and civic organizations (i.e., Rotary International, Lions Club, Soroptomist’s Club) also meet then, and can be a great resource for partnership development.

Coordinator Roles and Responsibilities

Each of the following are pivotal aspects of the Coordinator’s position:

  • Identifying, recruiting, and orienting employer partners

  • Promoting the program to teachers, students, and parents

  • Recruitment and preparation of students for employer partners to interview

  • Organizing the Student Worksite Learning Plan, and other program policies and procedures

  • Monitoring the progress of both students and employers at the work site

  • Evaluating student interns

  • Working with teachers on curriculum to bolster the relevance of instruction as it pertains to internship,

  • Organizing a culminating activity and/or closing celebration

  • Reviewing and revising the program with employer partners.

Since this work is crucial for an internship program, let’s look at each of these responsibilities in more depth. The coordinator should develop a timeline or action plan for putting each step into motion.

  1. Identify, recruit, and orient business partners.

Although there are examples of programs that have been initiated by employers out of a need for better qualified employees, and often out of a sense of community involvement, this is the exception. More often, it is the responsibility of the Academy team, and specifically the Academy Internship Coordinator, to meet this need.

Before planning to recruit employers for participation in your program, four basic but pertinent questions should be addressed:

  • What will employers be asked to do?

  • Which employers will be targeted for recruitment?

  • Why should employers participate in your program?

  • How will employers be recruited?

Once these questions have been discussed, if not fully answered, you will be better prepared to complete this task successfully. The first question is of paramount importance, for if this is not clearly defined, it will be difficult to attract quality businesses as partners.

There are many ways employers can be useful to your Academy internship program (in addition to simply providing a workplace where students can gain experience). These include:

  • Input on workplace validity of the curriculum

  • Program policy development and decision making

  • Recruitment of other employers/partners

  • Screening/interviewing of program applicants

  • Creation of work-based staff development opportunities for teachers

  • Job shadowing and career exposure assistance

  • Development of work site learning plans

  • Evaluation of student interns

  • Authentic audience for student presentations

Internship programs can vary. A first step in recruiting employers is to define your goals, the intended focus and scope of your program? Is it to have every student participate, or only some. Do you want paid positions or unpaid ones? Is your intent simply to further career awareness among your students, or to provide a fully restructured applied learning environment? Job shadowing and brief and/or unpaid internships can provide a level of career awareness. A longer paid internship will achieve more. Will the level of involvement be the same for all students? To be unclear about your goals and the scope of your program is to risk looking unprepared when approaching employers. The better prepared you are, the more likely they will participate.

It is wise to seek the participation of representatives from all Academy stakeholders – teaching, administration, counseling, students, parents, and Steering Committee members – when addressing these questions of intent. Only then can you get a clear idea of the needs and desires of the community at large, and only then will you be able to count on stakeholder support for the decisions that are made. Ask yourself and your stakeholders the following questions, and make your decisions based on the responses:

  • How structured do your partners want this program to be?

  • How many students will be participating in the program? How many at each business?

  • Will internships be paid or unpaid?

  • Will internships take place during summer? After school? Weekends?

  • Are all potential interns willing to make a commitment to an internship?

  • Are all students going to participate in the internship program?

The answer to these questions may vary. You may wish to keep your program flexible – allow certain business partners to offer a one week, unpaid internship, while others develop a more elaborate program. Use the expertise of your Steering Committee and business partners to help make these determinations. If you allow the program to be responsive to the needs of your business partners and students, to be flexible rather than rigid, it will function more fluidly and with less conflict.

Once these decisions are made, it is responsibility of the coordinator to find employers willing to invest the time and resources needed to provide internship opportunities. Some local employers may already be working with your school in various contexts: cooperative education programs, technical high schools/programs, existing internship programs, or Academies. Your local Chamber of Commerce can be a wonderful resource. Another good source is local civic organizations: e.g., Rotary International, Soroptomists, Lions Clubs, and the like. These groups typically meet weekly or monthly, generally at lunchtime, and are often seeking guest speakers. Your principal, superintendent, and board members are likely to be members of the various groups in your community, and may be able to assist you in gaining introductions and/or arranging an opportunity to speak about your program and recruit business partners.

The next step is to develop a master list of prospective employers, with an address, phone number, fax number, e-mail address, and contact person for each. You may wish to include a brief abstract (just a sentence or two) regarding the school’s current or past relationship with that company and any other pertinent information. Another good step is to develop a brochure geared to the business community and do a mailing to the businesses on your list. Follow up the mailing with phone calls, inviting these potential partners to an informational meeting. This lets you meet with many business representatives at once, and lets them learn from each other and perhaps support each others' involvement. An aid to this endeavor is the site or district Career Counselor. These professionals will often have much of this information at their fingertips, and can be of tremendous assistance in accomplishing any tasks that require the help of the business community.

Another approach, often necessary with some employers, is to set up an appointment at the company to discuss your program. Be well prepared for this meeting. Have a clear agenda in mind. Your presentation should be concise and to the point. Bring a brochure geared to business partners, detailing your program. Know what you will need from these partners, tell them, and also include it in your brochure so they can peruse it at their convenience. Be specific about these needs, with a timeline. If possible, take an existing business partner to this meeting – this will add strength to your presentation, as he or she can detail the merits of your program. A member of your Steering Committee can also serve in this role.

Once you have secured the involvement of a core group of employers, you will probably need to meet with them again to review the specifics of the program and prepare them for implementation. This may be done on an individual basis, although again a group meeting saves time and assures that all participants receive the same information. It also provides a chance for them to share observations with each other, and to see themselves as an extended part of the Academy team. At this meeting cover student application and matchup plans, student dress and behavior expectations, evaluation and assessment plans, the student interview and selection schedule, planned monitoring visits, and future meetings. It is a good idea to bring copies of pertinent forms and documents, discussing them, and determining a timeline for their use during the internship period.

NOTES: 1) Be certain that partners know how to contact you. Frustration on the part of your partners can cause them to become ex-partners, and ex-partners can cause others to be disinclined to work with you. 2) The top person in the company will be most able to make decisions to help your program succeed. However, these people are often difficult to meet with. Try to get your superintendent involved in making these connections. CEO’s will generally make time for other CEO’s. The superintendent – your CEO – can often make this connection when others can’t.

  1. Promote the program to teachers, students, and parents.

It is important to generate excitement about the program at your school for it to be a success. As in many aspects of the Academy, you are dealing with what for some will be new and unusual ways of doing business, in what is often a very traditional structure. The unknown or misunderstood often breeds resentment and fear, and a failure to clarify your plans and purposes can create problems.

Once your program has been in existence for awhile, it will be its own public relations tool. That is, students, parents, teachers, and business partners who have participated and/or observed the program will provide testimonials and anecdotal evidence, and build momentum. As you begin your internship program, however, it is important to provide information not only to those you wish to recruit, but also to your colleagues at the high school. Take a little time at faculty meetings to apprise the staff of what you’re doing. Hold informational meetings in the evening, and invite not only parents but interested community members. Invite the local newspaper and other media figures to report on business partner and student orientation meetings. Seek the aid of other teachers for help in recruitment. Ask your principal to show her/his support in a public way. To involve staff and community is to avoid the spread of misinformation and misgivings.

  1. Select and prepare students for employer partners to interview.

Because you are developing a program within an Academy, presumably there is a career focus in which your students have an interest. It is now time to subdivide these interests into various aspects of the industry. Within each broad career field, there are many different jobs and career options. Through interest inventories and other similar tools, as well as the knowledge your team of teachers has about its clients, students can be ensured the best possible internship match, and good matches help your program flourish.

A useful step at this point is to develop an application form that will help you determine each student’s interests, and review these with care (a sample can be found in the appendix). Discuss successful interview strategies in class, and conduct practice interviews. You can ask business partners to assist in this, as they are the professionals. Let students know that, just like in the real world of work, the process for placement will be competitive, and that business partners will interview and select their choice of interns. This “raises the bar” for students and takes some of the pressures off the coordinator.

Teachers may assist students in preparing for their interview by encouraging them to:

  • Participate in lessons on interview techniques

  • Participate in mock interviews

  • Prepare a resume and cover letter

  • Brainstorm possible questions and appropriate answers

  • Dress appropriately

  • Be prompt

  • Decline offered food or beverages

  • Be friendly and outgoing, but not to talk too much

  • Be concise and to the point

  • Arrive prepared to complete employment applications, and with all necessary paperwork

  • Thank the interviewer

  • Follow-up with a thank you note

  1. Develop Student Worksite Learning Plans

The goals of a successful internship program are two-fold: to meet employers’ expectations, and provide a quality educational experience for students. To meet these goals, work with the employer partner to develop a written work site plan. This plan should include what the student is expected to do on the job, and the assignments he or she must carry out to meet educational expectations. Because this is an internship it is important that it entail more than eight hours of filing or answering telephones each day. Students should learn about modern business practices, teamwork, job-specific skills, appropriate business behavior and dress, safety practices, and ethics. They should also be exposed to various aspects of the business, either through hands-on experience or observation. The Worksite Learning Plan serves in effect as a contract, spelling out the program purposes and responsibilities on both sides. A sample form for development of a Work Site Learning Plan is included in the appendix.

  1. Monitor the progress of both students and employers at the work site.

After interns are placed with employers it is necessary to track their progress and their developing relationship with the partner business. Depending on the number of students placed, the coordinator may or may not be able to conduct these on-site checks alone. A plan should be developed that is acceptable to the business partner for regularly viewing the intern at work and conducting a brief meeting with the intern and supervisor. In this way, potential problems may be circumvented, and the internship experience may be kept meaningful and productive. The person conducting the visitation should keep a journal of what they see, hear, and perceive about the student at work in order to answer any questions from parents or administrators, as well as to assist in the evaluation at the internship’s conclusion. This monitoring can be done both formally and informally. Unannounced drop-ins can sometimes provide different insights to the student’s experience than planned evaluative meetings.

  1. Conduct endpoint evaluations of student interns.

The next step is to establish a process for evaluating students' internship experiences. This should include not only the concluding evaluation, but at least one benchmark assessment along the way (depending on the length of the internship). Evaluations should be based on written employer evaluations, the coordinator’s assessment during monitoring of the intern, and completion of required assignments. Evaluation that’s done well will give the intern a clear idea of skills that must be developed or augmented during the senior year. The evaluation should be structured to be developmental and constructive rather than punitive. It is often helpful to have the students evaluate their own performance, after which a “gap analysis” can take place – places where the student’s self-evaluation diverges broadly from that of her/his supervisor. Discussions of such gaps and be very instructive, including an analysis of the reasons for the different perceptions.

  1. Work with key teachers on curriculum.

If teachers are familiar with what employees need to know and be able to do for success in the workplace, they can more effectively connect their classroom instruction to work site needs and competencies. The best way for this awareness to be developed is for Academy academic and technical teachers to participate in the internship program, particularly in site visits and evaluations. With the opportunity to view students at the work site, and discuss their needs, strengths, and weaknesses with intern supervisors, teachers become more aware of the activities at a modern work site. From this they can gain plan assignments and projects for the classroom to strengthen these areas. It may be useful for the coordinator to organize staff development training for the team. Assistance in curriculum development in general, and integrated curriculum projects in particular, are useful to connect the classroom with the work site.

  1. Organize a culminating activity and/or closing celebration.

You may wish to recruit the help of parent volunteers and/or employer partners in planning a celebration of your internship accomplishments. However it is organized, it is important to celebrate your program’s successes. School representatives, students, teachers, employer partners, and parents should all be invited.

This is a good opportunity for students to “stand and deliver” their accomplishments in front of a largely adult/professional audience. Students might be asked to develop a display documenting their internship experience, including their portfolio materials. They may be asked to give brief presentations of what they’ve accomplished. There can be a culminating awards ceremony, where certificates of completion are distributed (software that makes professional looking certificates is easy to find and inexpensive, and certificates look good on everyone’s refrigerator!). Supervisor testimonials are important to the students and your program. It is a good idea to have these transcribed for future public relations use. However you choose to structure this event, it is a good opportunity for everyone involved to see the connection being made between school and work, and the importance of this connection. Of course refreshments are mandatory!

  1. Review, evaluate, and revise the program with employer partners.

In business, this is usually called debriefing. It is important to find time shortly after the end of your internship period to meet with school officials and business partners to discuss what went well and what needs revision. Encourage all participants to be candid; it is not a failure to admit things weren’t perfect. Valuable insights can be gained from business partners regarding curricular needs teachers might address, and the school may see ways employers can augment the workplace learning to expand student understanding of the connection between the two.

Information that comes from this meeting might be disseminated to critical school staff in order to better train students in workplace competencies school wide. Arrange with the principal to share these findings, and to help develop a plan to address these recommendations.

Working Partners:

The Workforce Development Board of Contra Costa works with educators, businesses and community partners to provide all participants a relevant education that includes awareness of and access to career opportunities, employment, and preparation for post-secondary education and lifelong learning. The Summer Youth Program provides a work-based learning experience for participants between the ages of 14-24.

Key elements of CC Youth@Work program:

• Work Experience (WX) is in a range of professional settings and provides participants an opportunity

to gain a broad understanding of a career field.

• Incorporates learning goals agreed upon by the participant, the worksite supervisor, and a Career

Counselor, who also supervises the participant throughout the summer.

Has an educational component, building upon community classroom learning and career

development activities.

• A WX is a powerful hands-on learning experience for a participant.

Benefits of participating as an employer partner:

• Productive contribution by participant in the workplace.

• Positive publicity as a partner supporting the Workforce Development Board of Contra Costa County

(in publications and website, newspaper, and events).

• Heightened workplace pride and morale, a chance for employees to develop and practice leadership

and mentoring skills.

• Targeted investment in the local workforce assures skilled workers in your industry.

• Direct contribution to building communities in Contra Costa County.

How does it work?

• Employers/Worksites submit an application to CC Youth@Work Project Manager.

• Participants complete an application and submit it to the Career Counselor, who forwards the

application to the CC Youth@Work office with their recommendation.

• The CC Youth@Work office, in collaboration with partner agencies, match participants with

employer/worksite partners, based on employer/worksite job description, student skills and interests,

schedules, and Career Counselor recommendation.

• All employers/worksite supervisors attend an orientation before the start of the summer to discuss

specifics about participants in the workplace. The goal is to assure a quality experience that is

positive for both the employer/worksite partner and the participant.

• The CC Youth@Work program will provide a youth participant approximately 120 hours of subsidized

work experience with an hourly wage of $8.25 per hour.

• The CC Youth@Work Office is available throughout the summer to address any questions or

concerns that may arise.

YouthWORKS – Summer Youth Employment Program

The Youth Summer Employment Program is a yearly program that offers Richmond Youth the chance to work in a variety of local jobs. Youth participants will gain professional experience working in government agencies, non-profits and private businesses.

Section XIII – Partnering with ROP

Section XIV – Useful References

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