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.