Internships: How Does the Employer Benefit? Part II

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)

In my previous post I talked about the official ways an internship program benefited our company. Today I’d like to talk about a couple of unanticipated aspects of the program. Our shop, like most of yours, had many experienced employees, but few young people. The influx of inquisitive and personable students did annoy a few of the gruffer old hands, but far more of them were flattered by the kids asking them questions and soliciting their opinions on how things could be done better. You really can’t say you understand something until you try to explain it to someone completely unfamiliar with the topic. The very necessary interaction between our operators and interns gave us new insight into the ways we had always done things. In some cases it confirmed our process, in others it challenged our assumptions and allowed us to try new methods with less feather ruffling than if the changes came down from management.

The second thing I noticed was leadership is different from supervision. In some cases our foremen were not the “leaders” in their departments. Getting changes to “stick” was far more successful when the actual floor leader was convinced someone had finally listened to him. Your company, too, has some great leaders out on your shop floor; those leaders might have ideas you need to hear. Between the interns’ questions and our following up with the operators on the kids’ efforts, we learned many things we would not have without the program.

One of the things we made every intern do at the completion of a project was to prepare a presentation for anyone interested in attending. For most of the students this was by far the most stressful part of their tenure. It really informed management and their co-workers on what they had accomplished. And several reported afterwards that the experience helped them during job interviews upon graduation. You know the old joke about an extroverted engineer looking at your shoes when he talks to you? Mandatory public presentations gets their eyes raised a bit and increase their self- confidence for future assignments. That is a good thing for our industry.

Internships: How Does the Employer Benefit?

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)

The first question my boss asked me when I suggested we start an intern program was “What’s in it for us?” Fortunately I had done my homework and read the “instruction book” that a college placement office had e-mailed me: Starting and Maintaining a Quality Internship Program, compiled and edited by Michael True, director, Internship Center, Messiah College, Grantham, PA 17027; revised edition by MACIC (Milwaukee Area Internship Consortium 5/03), sponsored by www.tccp.org, Pittsburgh Technology Council and Messiah College.

It helped that our company was at that time growing rapidly and that he was looking for less expensive ways to recruit qualified employees. Among the benefits an employer enjoys from a well organized internship program are:
• Year-round source of highly motivated pre-professionals
• Students bring new perspectives to old problems
• Visibility of your organization is increased on campus and within your community
• Quality candidates for temporary or seasonal positions and projects
• Freedom for professional staff to pursue more creative projects
• Flexible, cost-effective workforce not requiring a long-term employer commitment
• Proven, cost-effective way to recruit and evaluate potential employees

Like many companies, we had a lot of projects that we never quite had the time to complete. Our list included finding a way to fit more cars in our parking lot, reorganizing our engineering files, inventorying gear cutting tools, converting CAD drawings to a different format, and improving material flow through the plant. All worthwhile projects that never got near the top of our priority lists. I’m sure we could have come up with even more projects had we asked the accounting, purchasing, or sales departments, but my list was sufficient to get an approval to hire a couple of engineering students for the summer months. Note I said “hire,” as we felt it was unfair to ask unpaid volunteers to perform “real work.” With input from the University’s internship advisor, we set an hourly rate based upon year in school and had plenty of well-qualified candidates to choose from. By the end of the summer our project backlog was eliminated, but my co-workers were already debating “what we should have the kids do next summer.”

Is It Summer Yet?

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)

With the extreme weather much of the country has been having it isn’t too surprising that many people are daydreaming about summer vacations and relaxing days far from the snow shovel. But another group of people is already thinking of summer for far less relaxing reasons; they are college students in need of summer employment. Ideally that employment would be in their field of study with a company who might be in need of their services after graduation.

Until my own children started looking for “internships” I didn’t give much thought to this situation. Sure, I had seen “summer help” in action at various employers but it seemed like they were just being given manual labor tasks like cleaning out storage rooms and landscaping, with maybe a little painting thrown in for variety. I confess to drafting my son into some scut work when he had too long a winter break during his freshman year. The University of Cincinnati’s long tradition of co-op study preempted his need for further dirty work and his sister was wary of more assignments after one vacation of filing purchase orders.

My daughter became an advocate for internships after several dismal assignments early in her studies at the University of Illinois. At her urging I learned what made an internship “work” for both the student and the employer. Then I sold the idea to my bosses as a way of getting some long neglected tasks off the Engineering Department things-to-do list.

It took some effort on my part and some patience from my staff but that things-to-do list got whittled down by summer’s end. The students learned to apply some “book learning” to real world problems and to present their results before upper management. Several of the kids used their project reports in job interviews. Our company president was impressed enough to authorize another group of interns for winter break. That group got a rave review from him for presenting a unique solution to a capital spending problem worthy of a major consulting firm.

So despite the calendar, I encourage those of you who are in a position to offer summer employment to study your things-to-do lists for tasks you can delegate to eager young people. In my next posts I will give some tips on selecting projects, finding interns, and making the internship experience beneficial to everyone involved.