Students and Businesses Benefit from Internships
Business partnerships with Polk County Public Schools showcase ‘long-term investment in students.’
Polk County Public Schools (PCPS) and local businesses are partnering to provide students with internships while they’re in high school, something Laura Webster, an academy coach with Workforce Education, called “a long-term investment in our students.”
“Our students have so much to offer – they’re worth every minute of that investment,” said Webster, who works with career academy teachers and students to support their academies, facilitate business and community engagement, and build work-based learning opportunities.
“We have been working for several years to build a district-wide summer work-based learning program for academy students that pairs them with a business in their academy area to gain experience and begin building social capital within the workforce,” Webster said. The program is tailored to juniors and seniors in high school career academies and is based on teacher recommendations.
This summer, students will work 30 to 40 hours a week for two weeks as part of an “intensive immersion into the career field,” Webster said. “We hope to expand the program in the future for longer internships that will meet the needs of both students and business partners.”
PCPS also has a pre-apprenticeship program where students enrolled in one of six construction academies can work with a contractor over the summer to gain experience in the construction field, she said.
Ryan DelliVeniri, president at IDX Brands, said his company generally has three to five interns at any given time. His interns are set up to work for three months, but their internships are often extended for top performers. We have had some for as long as a year.”
IDX generally hires designers who work with the Adobe suite, process client designs and send them out for approval. “Many of our interns funnel into a longer-term position.”
DelliVeniri said internship programs are “vital to Polk County’s economic base. Employers need to understand how capable PCPS students are, especially when paired with training and a good intern selection process. Every employer in Polk County should be concerned with retaining talent in our county; after all, it’s the labor pool we all have to draw from. Even if the intern doesn’t stay long-term, they are actively developing and influencing the entry-level labor pool and giving us a greater chance at retaining the student in Polk County long-term.”
In addition Central Florida Development Council and Polk Vision also hosted high school interns. All agreeing that these internships also provide students with meaningful work experiences so they can make the best decisions for their college and career readiness. Students are often forced to make college or career choices based on very limited experience – often producing misguided decisions.
WHY ARE INTERNSHIPS IMPORTANT?
Webster said two reasons internships are important are industry exposure and social capital. “We’ve started to learn that the earlier students are exposed to real-world work experiences, the more likely they are to stay engaged with those industries.”
Many students are enrolled in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs; when they intern, they “see how the skills they learn in the classroom translate into the real world. Internships also allow students to begin building social capital before they leave school. As adults, we know the importance of a professional network, but many of our students leave school without any personal or professional connections. The sooner they can start building social capital, the more likely they are to find their way into successful postsecondary education or employment.”
Internships may be more critical than they were 10 to 15 years ago because opportunities for students have increased exponentially, along with a resurgence in the importance of CTE programs, Webster said.
“For a long time, the educational narrative was college or career, and internships were viewed as more important for college-bound students than those heading into the workforce. However, we’ve shifted that narrative to college and career. Whatever path the student takes to enter the workforce, they need the same experiences and skills, and an internship is important for all students, rather than a select few. The more students we can provide with early, authentic career experiences, the healthier our workforce and economy will be.”
Early exposure and teacher recommendations are important in helping students see the value of an internship. “Our teachers do a great job of preparing them as early as ninth grade for future opportunities like internships so that when students reach 11th and 12th grade, they know how it can benefit them and why it’s an important step to their future. We also like to point to our success stories, like one of our seniors who interned with a construction company last summer and got hired on permanently.”
As they continue to build the program, Webster said she would like to see students progress from college visits in ninth grade to job shadowing, mentorship and project-based learning supported by business partners, ending with an internship as a capstone experience.
Companies offering short-term internship with a high-school students are making a long-term investment in Polk County’s future workforce. Webster said business partners often say students have great technical skills but lack “soft skills” like critical thinking, time management and teamwork. “Internships are a great opportunity to model those skills for students in a real-world setting at an earlier age, setting them up for future success.”
When working to attract more business partners, she tells them they are working together to build the workforce needed in Polk County. “If we wait to try and reach students at 18 after they’ve graduated, we’ve waited too long.”
DelliVeniri said IDX benefits from having PCPS interns. “If managed and developed properly, they have a high ROI compared to what is available in the labor market at entry-level compensation rates. Specifically, we see more passion and enthusiasm for the job from our PCPS interns, which we attribute to a few variables:
- “The students really value these jobs because they are more of a ‘fit’ for them than many of the available ‘starter’ jobs in the market, which are typically retail and come with less desirable working hours.”
- “The students are incentivized to learn about the industry and job specifics because they plan to leverage this knowledge in college or career, compared to just working to make spending money.”
Webster said businesses benefit “because they are getting access to their future workforce years in advance, giving them the opportunity to impart essential skills and knowledge earlier than they would if they just hired students after graduation.”
And there’s more: “I think there’s also a feel-good aspect for internship providers,” she said. “We were all in the same place at some point – a young adult student who was unsure about our future and what career we wanted, and many of us benefited from a mentor who helped us figure it out along the way. Internships are one way our industry partners can be that mentor to the next generation of employees, and it could make all the difference in a student’s life.”
BENEFITS FOR STUDENTS
Interns benefit by gaining real-world experience and “see and practice those employability skills in a relatively low-risk setting where they can receive feedback and mentoring from their internship provider,” Webster said.
DelliVeniri said the students who intern at IDX get more than a paycheck. They get a lot of work in the design field. “Often they will process more designs in a three-month stint with us than they would all year in a classroom setting.”
They also get to experience getting feedback from a client, which is very different than that from a teacher or peer, he said.
“Finally, they get a working knowledge of the production process that happens after they have created a design. Many young designers can create beyond the capabilities of production. All interns spend time in our production departments, which aids in their understanding of the limitations their design has on each machine and/or product.”
DelliVeniri said students who have successful internships are more likely to remain in Polk County. “I think the chances are higher that we will retain students in this county if they feel actively developed.”
Larger employers can hire interns with a low commitment, he said. “Offers made after a short work experience would likely have a high ROI since the chance for hiring ‘wrong fit’ would be greatly reduced.”
And, the students “are really motivated to learn and use that knowledge to elevate – so if you are a company that has positions to elevate into, it’s a great system to leverage.”