A recent study by the Chronicle of Education found that many employers value work experience, particularly internships and employment during school, in addition to grade-point average and college major.
While it’s still important for students to pursue a strong academic foundation and have a focused career path, we have increasingly encouraged our students to supplement their education with real work experience.
This study and our own local experience provides proof positive that finding opportunities to apply what you learn in a classroom or online during your college career can contribute greatly to your success in finding a job when you graduate.
As college students at Elizabethtown Community and Technical College and across the region are wrapping up their academic year, the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board asked me to share my insights on the value of internships. That value is realized three-fold – 1) by the student intern, 2) by the employer and 3) by the education provider that often fosters these opportunities.
Time and time again our students who participate find the experience invaluable. Krystal Thompson was a student in our Medical Information Technology program who interned for the Nelson County Community Clinic.
“I just loved it because I learned so much,” Thompson said. “We read textbooks about our careers and train in simulated work environments, but there is nothing like experiencing the job first hand.”
It’s not just the non-profit sector. We’ve cultivated internship programs across multiple sectors including manufacturing. In fact, students who have interned with local manufacturers typically are offered jobs once their internships are complete. That includes welding graduate Andrew Holland, who was nearing the end of his training when his instructor, Joe Reed, approached him about the opportunity to intern with automotive glass manufacturer AGC in Elizabethtown.
“ECTC provided a great learning environment. But putting that classroom learning into practice was incredible,” said Andrew. “And I was able to walk right into a job.”
Kristal DiCarlo is the human resource manager at AGC. She says internships definitely offer AGC a way to evaluate and develop a talent pool while providing for additional capacity.
Interns are paired with experienced employees who train and mentor them, and that pairing results in an additional benefit.
“We’ve watched our employees grow as leaders as they provide this training,” said DiCarlo “They take great pride in developing their student interns. It’s wonderful to watch our employees grow professionally as well.”
While the additional capacity is always beneficial, it was that opportunity to mentor and give back that motivated State Farm’s Sarah Reynolds to seek out student interns.
“It’s an opportunity to give back to the community and support the college,” said Reynolds. “And our customers appreciate an agency that supports its community.”
Our instructors are the connectors who broker these opportunities because they know what a difference it can make to students.
“College is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Reed. “We try to replicate a real world environment in the classroom, but nothing compares to honing your skills in an actual work environment.”
Judy Hart is an associate professor for our Administrative Office Technology and Medical Information Technology programs. She seeks out feedback from the students and the employers on how we at ECTC can improve our instruction and better prepare students.
“Having a strong partnership with employers who work with our students first hand helps us change as industry changes and provides our students with the best opportunity to succeed,” Hart said.
I couldn’t agree more. I’m so proud of these exceptional teachers who have developed partnerships with local companies. We think it’s critically important to support our regional economy.
We also take great pride when students secure especially competitive internships. For example, culinary arts student Lincoln Mattingly was selected and is currently participating in a six-month internship at Walt Disney World. The Bardstown native calls it “a life-changing experience” and he attributes his success to his teacher, Susie Pate.
“I don’t know where I would be without her,” said Mattingly.
As you can see, committed teachers, valued employers and dedicated students all benefit from internships. These opportunities are, indeed, an invaluable workforce development tool.