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Internship program success: why it’s everybody’s business

Updated: Apr 23, 2021

Jessica Colombi

As the Cleveland Internship Summit nears, Jessica Colombi, executive director of CSU’s Career Services Center, shares her thoughts on the state of internships and the indispensable role employers play in ensuring college graduates are prepared for the world of work.

Increased competition sets the stage

From workforce preparedness to generational differences, there’s no shortage of relevant topics on the agenda at the Greater Cleveland Partnership’s Third Annual Cleveland Internship Summit on February 27. Given the increasing competition for new graduates — a 2017 CareerBuilder survey of nearly 2,400 hiring managers and human resources professionals finds that 74% planned to hire recent college graduates, which represents the highest level in a decade — an examination of these topics is critical, particularly as organizations often look to their internship programs as a source for new talent.

Topics reflecting the complexities we all face

Among the sessions, which together offer a comprehensive look at the broad range of factors impacting internship programs today, is “Workforce Preparedness: How Employers are Getting Interns and New Grads More Career Ready.” The inclusion of this session underscores the need for employers to help students develop the professional skills required for a successful transition to the workplace. 

Some may feel that this responsibility sits with higher education, even as most employers still prefer to hire recent graduates with relevant work experience. Yet the reality is that no college or university can fully prepare students for career success on its own because of the limited ability to replicate workplace experiences on campus.

We can provide a foundation that includes the development of communication, critical thinking and leadership skills — as well as on campus employment for a limited number of students — but we rely significantly on partnerships with employers to create meaningful internship opportunities and co-op programs that translate into career readiness. As such, the ability to deliver experiential learning opportunities is one of the most distinct and valuable features of urban campuses like Cleveland State where Engaged Learning is our mantra.

Another Summit topic, “Generational Diversity in the Workplace,” seeks to provide employers with the understanding needed to effectively manage teams of people who have extremely different views regarding work. It’s no secret that millennials continue to reshape the employment experience, having questioned long-held notions that work must take place during certain hours of the day (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and at a specific location (in one’s assigned cube). They’re also extremely focused on finding meaningful work that allows them to see the impact their efforts have on the greater good. 

While Baby Boomers may scoff at these preferences while bemoaning a lack of loyalty among younger workers, employers have already made dramatic changes in their work environments in an effort to attract and retain Millennials.  

Connections to spur innovation

One of the best reasons to attend the Cleveland Internship Summit is to network with other employers and learn about the different ways that companies are approaching their internship programs. While regulations have long been established by the Department of Labor, there’s still no single way to design a program. For example, we’ve seen an increase in project-based internships, which offer students the chance to complete an internship with a more flexible schedule, such as 30 hours over the course of a month instead of set hours during the traditional work week.

At the same time, the most successful internship programs do share a common characteristic: They offer the organization an opportunity to give back to the community by providing relevant experiences that help develop the next generation of talent, no matter where the interns may ultimately land. 

This can be achieved by integrating specific learning objectives into the experience. Simply put, make sure your interns are learning as opposed to merely completing a range of tasks. Because when students are given the chance to increase their knowledge, acquire new skills and gain confidence in their abilities through experiential learning, it’s a win for everyone.


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