From a lose-lose to a win-win: Internships of the future

Students crave internships.  Every year I see students sacrificing wages from a summer job to spend their summer interning for a local law firm or at a non-profit or with an investment banker or as a lab assistant at OHSU.  Unfortunately, these internship experiences more often teach kids what they don't want to do with their lives instead of revealing new passions, teaching new skill sets, or cultivating connections that will help students once they graduate from school.  High school and college students not only lose wages from internships, they often lose out on valuable learning experiences and connections because they don't have a mentor who has the time, capacity, skill-set or desire to help them throughout the internship experience.  

On the flip side, internships are often a losing proposition for businesses.  Businesses agree to take on interns because they believe it's the right thing to do, but the whole experience often feels more like a burden than a gift as students lack specialized knowledge, skills, direction and ability. 

Right now, internships are a lose-lose for students and businesses.  However, we all know that our society experiences a win-win when internships work well.  Ideally, students gain valuable skills, connections and experiences from their workplace that are more authentically aligned with the demands of a workplace and/or industry of their choice.  At the same time, businesses should win by training future employees, creating brand advocates and benefiting from the intern's projects.  This can happen if we reframe what internships mean in some of the following ways:

  • Make apprenticeships out of internships and riff off of models that work in Europe and Australia where businesses receive tax subsidies for teaching skills to apprentices.  In addition, students are paid a small wage to do actual work with an assigned mentor that has a decreased workload in order to train future generations.
  • Make classrooms and workplaces more permeable and connected.  What if students and workers worked in the same buildings (physical connection) and/or worked on projects in collaborative ways in different spaces (technological connections)?
  • Embed teachers in businesses over the summer and pay them to learn skills needed by these businesses so that teachers can serve as effective mentors for students in a way that unburdens businesses.
  • Use digital portfolios to hold students and businesses accountable for their experiences with skill development, project execution, and overall experience.

As a teacher, I know students want better internships.  I am writing to reach out to businesses who seek better interns.  Let's develop education-industry partnerships to make internships a win-win for all.