Contributed Column

Internships: Business's Educational Role

by Tim Donovan
President of Community College of Vermont

How to gain the most benefit for your company and your intern

Business partnerships in which all sides win can be a rare occurrence in the professional world, yet such success can come from a partnership between a business and a student intern. With a growing number of colleges incorporating community and work experience as part of degree program requisites, opportunities for businesses to hire and mentor interns are becoming increasingly common.

The benefits of internships for both business and student are numerous and far-reaching. An immediate result of hiring an intern is the obvious benefit of having an extra set of hands to take on workload. However, an intern brings much more to the position than that. Many employers find that their interns, because they are already actively immersed in a learning environment, bring fresh new perspectives beneficial to the business environment.

As students who are close to completing their degrees, interns are not yet experts in their fields and their skills are not quite polished, but they generally approach their positions with a desire to learn and to make a real contribution to the businesses for which they are working. Beyond this, interns can be notably up-to- date on cutting-edge concepts and knowledge, particularly in regards to technology. This type of contribution can serve to enhance the expertise of more experienced workers and thereby make a significant and positive impact on a business. Conversely, interns are acquiring practical experience and invaluable exposure to the fields they are interested in pursuing.

If you're considering hiring an intern for your business, here are several key factors fundamental to a successful outcome for both intern and employer.

• Think of your intern as more than just a set of hands doing menial chores. Although most interns expect a certain amount of routine work, most are ready to challenge themselves and develop their skills.

• Assign duties relevant to your intern's studies. Develop a clear and detailed job description that will challenge the student and provide meaningful contribution to the business.

• Welcome the intern as a member of the staff, albeit a temporary one. When appropriate, include the student in staff meetings and other activities that will augment his or her understanding of the field.

• Assign a skilled staff member to mentor the intern in the daily workings of the business. Choose someone who can offer knowledge and guidance in a positive and constructive manner.

• Set aside a weekly time to meet with the intern. This should go beyond a simple meeting to work up a "to do" list. This is a time when you can discuss deeper issues relating to the field or job performance, and offer constructive feedback and your own wisdom gathered from experience.

• Most of all, keep in mind that your intern is still a student. Be supportive and keep lines of communication open with the student as well as with the college.

A student intern often brings a new and effective perspective that might be overlooked by an experienced veteran. In turn, the intern learns from the experience and wisdom of professionals in his or her chosen field.

By hiring a student intern, an employer creates an arrangement whose benefits ripple beyond the immediate business. It is a wave that can transform the life of an individual student, breathe new energy into an organization and positively affect the community outside company walls.

Tim Donovan began working for the Community College of Vermont 28 years ago and is serving his fourth year as college president. During his tenure, CCV enrollments have grown 35 percent, making the college the second largest higher education institution in the state.

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