There is no question that our nation needs to refocus our education system – particularly in regards to our science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Providing a well-rounded education for high school and college students is not as simple as book-learning and test-taking – it also includes learning proper handshakes, collaboration, teamwork, and other soft skills. Unfortunately, schools often don’t have the bandwidth to accomplish it all, which is why school/business partnerships and internship programs are crucial to the success of our nation’s future workforce.
An internship program should be designed to provide local high school and college students with hands-on, real-world experience in a work setting. Ideally, interns are positioned to integrate and use their knowledge and skills from the classroom, to find and nurture their passions, and to become better acquainted with the types of jobs to which their passion and skills can be best applied.
Photo from the 2012 School-Business Partnership Breakfast. Pictured (from left to right): Paula Harper – George Washington University, Lisa Kimball – Telos Corporation, Ed Hatrick – Loudoun County Public Schools, & Janet Schiavone – George Washington University
An internship program must be flexible, allowing comprehensive collaboration while narrowing scope to the intern’s particular passions and strengths. For many people, figuring out what they want to be when they grow up involves a process of elimination. An intern may start in a position that’s software development-oriented, for instance, only to find that they excel in hardware maintenance and repair. Mentors and their protégés are most successful when they have opportunities to fine-tune the internship plan – or to change it altogether – so that both company and student needs are met.
So – what might an intern do? In addition to writing software code, learning various aspects of cyber-security, building and repairing computer hardware systems, setting up and trouble-shooting secure networks, and assisting with accounting and contract management activities, they should be taught soft skills … how to write a resume that showcases their talents and experiences; how to complete a job application, how to construct proper documentation – from instant messages in the work place to full technical manuals. They should witness, and then actively participate in, business meetings and brainstorming sessions, where they learn constructive collaboration and professional conduct. They should learn the importance of maintaining clean legal and financial records, a necessity in today’s business environment, particularly for jobs that require government security clearances.
Interns should always be allowed, even encouraged, to make mistakes, and receive strong support when they do. In school, students are taught that there’s only one correct answer for each and every problem; real-world experience is often best gained by failing – sometimes repeatedly – and trying again – sometimes repeatedly. A primary goal of any internship is to teach the student how to “fail gracefully.”
Professionals should also work to develop interns who are confident enough in their skills and knowledge to question why things are done the way that they have been. A “fresh eye” is often exactly what’s needed to breathe new life into a stagnant process, so mentors should do their best to teach approaches that are more likely to garner positive responses and results.
Hear how one top-notch technology teacher describes the value of interships to her students:
Students have the opportunity to acquire internships within various departments at Telos. Often they obtain full time employment as a result of these experiences. These internships allow students to utilize their technical school knowledge in the workplace and work alongside professionals. The opportunities expand and solidify knowledge and necessary workplace readiness skills in a corporate culture. The benefits are priceless for both students and Telos as these collaborative efforts continually support Loudoun County students. Telos professional give back by sharing their knowledge and coaching and mentoring young minds to develop their passion for the industry.
Students provide very positive feedback from these experiences. As young people, they are often in doubt about their choices and internships help guide them to professionals and/or post-secondary academic decisions.
So what’s in it for the business? Great ideas, new ways of looking at things, improved processes that lead to more innovative products and services. Mentors learn every day!
Not to mention, these relationships offer companies excellent opportunities to “try before you buy” … Telos has a number of long-time employees who started as interns. My boss, for example, Mark Griffin – was a Telos summer intern from Virginia Tech – now a 28+ year Telos employee who serves as president of our Identity Management Solutions.
The Empower and Protect Blog brings you cybersecurity and information technology insights from top industry experts at Telos.