College to Careers – An Intern(al) Investigation

City of Palm Coast 2022 Interns Tour City Hall.

The word internship can mean many different things to many different people, especially as it pertains to the generational stigma that individuals may have to associate with their personal experience working as an intern. But as one takes a deep dive into the internship experience in its current state, many students of yesteryear, who may have found themselves feeling overworked while serving as an intern and trying to balance schoolwork and being underpaid (if they were even paid at all), might be surprised to know that those currently interning often find themselves not only with a healthy amount of time for their studies but also with a sizeable paycheck to reward them for their efforts – or just maybe to help them get a jumpstart in paying off those student loans.

One may question the origins of when interning was born – that is to say, when moonlighting in a position with a company while simultaneously majoring in a subject that pertained to that position became something of merit and something that made a potential applicant stand out in the pack upon graduating and foraying into the competitive job market. Perhaps we can look no further than the fields of science and medicine for our answer, where students must complete clinicals, research and labs on a weekly basis in order to graduate. After all, professions in these fields are those of precision and exactness. Without applying the knowledge learned in the classroom to real-world scenarios, albeit in controlled environments, one could argue that hitting the ground running would be that much more difficult to conquer if day one at work was indeed the first day of real…well, work.

But in recent years, with the ever-growing competition in many professional fields, attending college is often synonymous with the need to have maintained an internship sometime during the scholastic higher education experience. This is not necessarily a requirement to graduate in the same way clinicals are in the medical field, but with so many students now interning across the country, the need to show your future employer that you are serious about a potential position lies in the proverbial pudding of the blood, sweat, tears, groans, sighs and sleep deprivation that you put in during college. This gives them peace of mind that they can hit the ground running without a lot of hand-holding, which equals more time for productivity. This is something that college educators and administrators know full well and is the essence of why interning, when you have the opportunity, is always a great idea.

Arleen Dennison

“Internships are a great way for our students to apply what they have learned in the classroom to the work environment and allow them to work on those ‘soft skills’ like showing up on time, staying focused, conducting themselves in a professional manner and speaking to customers appropriately,” said Arleen Dennison, college advancement coordinator at First Coast Technical College in St. Augustine. “Internships can also serve as a trial for students who may not be exactly sure which aspect of a particular field they want to work in, which is better for a student than starting a job in something they believe they enjoyed, only to quit four months later and return to the drawing board,” she added.

Class of 2022 interns work on a group project at the City of Palm Coast

But what about the work-life balance or, in a student’s case, work-life-school balance? The detrimental side-effects of simply being overworked and under the influence of mounting stress have never been better documented than now when mental health finally has a seat at the table of conversations worth having. Fortunately, schools such as First Coast Technical College have taken these factors into account and have applied easy access to internship opportunities right on campus for programs such as cosmetology, culinary arts, automotive, agriculture and more.

Jessica Lovatt

With all of this in mind, we would be remiss not to look at the flip side of the equation, the role of the employer or entity offering internships to students. While students stand to learn and earn while interning, the role of the employer may appear to be one that is merely sacrificial, as their employees and leadership often spend many hours mentoring students. It’s important to acknowledge that the potential for students to land a job at the place of internship can also serve the employer and be treated as a sort of trial on that side of the aisle as well. While students are earning their way into the workforce, internships offer employers a birds-eye view of what the hypothetical employment may look like should a student go on to apply to a full-time position somewhere down the line. But as Jessica Lovatt, president/CEO of Volusia Manufacturers Association, explains, offering internships benefits not only the students but the workplace culture as well.

“A lot of established employees who are great at their jobs grow tenfold when having someone there to teach their work world to,” Lovatt explains. “Sometimes it is richly rewarding, and sometimes you learn exactly what not to do – either way, you and your company are walking away with something you can’t put a price on, true growth.”

Perhaps it is that growth that should really be the centerpiece of what the real benefits of interning are. Beyond the money, beyond the education, beyond the skills, lie the experiences that will, for many, be a stepping-stone toward a certain future in a particular life and career or one that takes them down a different path they never knew they would venture. Either way, internships possess that rare power to be a true catalyst for anyone’s professional career — and life.