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February 9, 2012 5:53 PM   Subscribe

What makes a great internship program?

So in addition to my usual duties, I have become the internship coordinator. It's kind of an extra headache, but I'm genuinely excited about it and want to make a great program.

Currently, the internship is rotational so that the intern spends about a month with each staff member in the department. Aside from this, the program is structureless, there is no real curriculum. So I am trying to make it a more cohesive, integrated program.

It seems too often that the supervisors just don't know what to do with their interns. They become extra work, rather than assets and consequently the intern is not challenged or engaged. It's like they're just bouncing around from person to person.

What is the best way to facilitate staff supervision of the intern to maximize the rewards for both involved?
posted by abirdinthehand to Work & Money (7 answers total)
Have someone meet with the kids on a weekly basis, while someone else meets with the staff member(s) currently supervising kids, as well as the group who most recently worked with the kids and the group who will be working with them next (alternatively, you could do the staff meetings while the kids aren't there, assuming it's not a 40-hour gig.) You want to know what they're doing, how it's been contributing to their goals, and what kinds of things have been working well for them.

You also really need to work with people to identify learning opportunities for the kids, as well as things the kids can do.

It would help a lot if you could specify your industry, the kinds of jobs the staffers do, and the age/education level of the kids.
posted by SMPA at 6:07 PM on February 9, 2012

Oh, yeah, and you need to know what everyone's actual goals are, as well as your idealized goals. For instance, you might have an ideal goal of "the students will understand how our industry works, gain real-world experience, and spend time making useful contacts in the working world." Your students may well have a goal like "we will get easy A's in this required class," and your staff may have goals like "someone will actually get through the two-year pileup of filing I never have time to take care of." Knowing what people actually want will help you determine what needs to be changed - your staff won't be any good at educating those kids about the industry if they're too busy being pissed off about the overdue filing.
posted by SMPA at 6:10 PM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've interned in high school, college, and grad school. Each level had different expectations so keep that in mind (high school students can just barely be trusted with folding brochures, for example, while grad students can generally do interesting things with minimal supervision).

Besides having one point person that the intern can go to for help, complaints, etc (that would be you, I'd think), make sure you're clear on what the school's requirements for the intern are. They might need you to sign off on weekly journals, for example. Better for you to know this in advance and ask right away than be handed a stack of journal entries at the end and be expected to sign off on 'em and then be stuck between your own ethics and the intern's needs.

The single best experience I ever had as an intern had me reporting to different departments (I even had a different coordinator at one point) and doing different things in sometimes confusing ways. What made it so great? Three things: my coordinators always listened thoughtfully to what I had to say, the coordinators were willing to shape the internship based on my input and areas of interest, and they introduced me to every single person in the building.

That last requires a bit of explanation. This was about a 50-person crew and I spent anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes one-on-one with each and every one of them, interviewing the person about what they did in their job, how they got there, and what they enjoyed and didn't enjoy. I spoke with every single person, from the new part-time trainee to the director.

All that time spent interviewing people did two things: a) killed time during which my coordinator didn't have to find tasks for me and b) taught me about the jobs that people actually did there and how I could be helpful. This made me a better and more engaged intern. I learned so much about the organization and I still bear it so much good will. I would strongly suggest that you make this part of your internship policy if at all possible (logistics such as a large company or large number of interns might require tweaking this idea).

Oh, also? If you can find the intern (or interns) one space where they can always put their stuff (coats, bags, etc.) and one place where they can always grab food or whatever--regardless of what department they might be working with--that will really help. The 'stuff' space might even be near your office so if they need to touch base with you it will be a natural and easy thing to stop by.
posted by librarylis at 6:27 PM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the quick responses- already lots of good pointers!

I work in the horticulture department of a public garden, the interns are completing their bachelor's and so far their ages vary from college age up. The staff consists of curators, a landscape designer, nursery staff, an arborist, seasonal exhibits and records.
posted by abirdinthehand at 6:34 PM on February 9, 2012

My recommendation would be to ensure that each intern has a work plan and a point person. Ideally, this would be tailored to your goals and to theirs. So, hopefully you have a sense of what kinds of projects need to be done, and then you can find out what the intern's interests are and match them to a project.

Periodically (weekly perhaps) when you/the point person meet with the intern you should be reviewing if they are progressing towards completing their work plan, and if not, what the barriers are to completion. It might be good to also have a list of 'general' tasks, like a 'rainy day list', most organizations have a bunch of tasks that always need to be done and could always use some help (like weeding the garden?), this list would give people something to do if they complete their work plan or for some reason the plan falls through.

This way the interns know what they need to do and you hopefully get some use out of them.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:32 PM on February 9, 2012

I assign readings (like I just assigned one on personal branding), and also talk frankly about how what she's doing is valuable. I also ask her two send me a log of her hours, a biweekly progress report, and follow up with her about questions. I also try to make her feel like an expert and respected team member, and ask her to make decisions like on what program to use for our newsletter, and whether we should start using tumblr.
posted by spunweb at 11:35 PM on February 9, 2012

I agree with all of the above, but would add one hugely important consideration: career development. It's unlikely that you'll be able to offer all of your interns a job after they finish, but I'd bet that you and your colleagues can help them use this internship to further their careers.

Perhaps they're looking for a permanent job in horticulture, or someone to supervise a grad degree? Maybe they want to learn how to cultivate a certain variety of plant, or maybe they are design-oriented and want to get experience planning a new installation?

The key here is to chat with them early on - openly and receptively - to identify what it is that they want to get out of the internship. Then you can square their responses with your institutional needs to figure out some good projects for them to do.

My most positive internship experience - for me AND my employer - resulted from my employer approaching the internship as an opportunity for me to develop, and then channeling my enthusiasm for X and Y topics towards some organisational need. I was happy because I was getting the experience I wanted and needed, and the org was happy because my happiness allowed me to work my ass off in service of their organisational goals.
posted by narcotizingdysfunction at 8:41 AM on February 10, 2012

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