Cultivating the Next Generation: Creating Meaningful Internships

The year is 2019 and the winds of the workforce are changing. With this shift comes a new landscape along the coasts of business. As the high tide of baby boomers and Generation Xers begins to retreat back out to sea, revealed to the heat of the world are millions of young millennial and Generation Z shells who have been steadily eroded by the water above them until they are smoothed and perfected enough to face the beach goers picking.

Most of my contemporaries (I’m a Gen Zer myself) face a similar trajectory to land on their feet once they hit their mid-twenties: You get some sort of education or training. You find a bottom-of-the-barrel position to gain some experience while you get said education. And you tough it out long enough to add the position to your resume. Copy, Paste. Copy, Paste. Finally, you are out of school with enough experience to grab your first “real” job and become the most beautiful shell on the beach.

But what if it did not have to be this way? What if the young adults preparing to enter the workforce did not have to spend their days with their eyes glued to a computer screen, yearning for some sort of human interaction? What if they could avoid staring at a silent telephone for two to three hours at a time twiddling their thumbs?

I know there are people (especially those members of the aforementioned high tide) who will read this and exclaim, “The entitlement of these kids keeps getting worse and worse!” If this is you, I implore you to keep reading. Those who know me personally will know how fond I am of a character-building position. I fully stand by giving the inexperienced plenty of grunt work in order to help them appreciate what comes their way in the future. But there must be a method to the madness. If companies could find a way to foster an interactive and meaningful internship for these college kids, it would be beneficial for all.

Let me provide an example of what I mean. This summer, I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to work with Schultz & Williams (S&W). When I received the offer, they told me my title would be “marketing & special projects coordinator.” The word “intern” was nowhere to be found, and I was elated. Something as simple as omitting a word and reformatting a position title can make an instant difference.

Despite my title, I figured the experience would be like any other: hours upon hours spent pouring over data, numbers and names, Excel spreadsheets the first and last thing I saw every day. There is nothing wrong with work like this, but for someone seeking a learning experience, it is practically useless. Day one came, and I was very pleasantly surprised. Within an hour I had learned about a client with whom I would be working alongside the project management team and consultants. The vice president of marketing had assigned me a task that would take me at least a month of my summer to complete. The staff had welcomed me warmly. The summer went on, and I juggled different assignments from my respective bosses. I was invited to client meetings and consultant events, seminars and conferences. S&W offered me every opportunity to learn and succeed that they could. They seemed to actually care.

This engagement was what made me feel so passionate about what I was doing from the first day. There was plenty of busy work, spreadsheets and lists for me to review; however, I knew what the end goal was. I was taught why it was important to do the things I was doing and how they affected the overall campaign I was working on. I was informed about the meaning of my work and the positive impact it had on the firm. There was a reason behind why I was diligently staring at the spreadsheets and numbers. The work I was doing felt like it mattered. S&W made me feel like I mattered.

If companies create a culture of value for their interns, their work will be far better than that of some kid who is miserably daydreaming about what his or her friends are out doing. If employees allow interns the opportunity to work with them on projects, to gain real-life hands-on experience in the office, the results will be greater for all.

My experience with Schultz & Williams has been fantastic. I have learned so much valuable information about the development industry and life as a young professional. However, not every day can be so exciting, and that is just part of being an intern. So here I sit, at my intern desk typing my intern words. The office buzzes with the hum of fingers typing and mouses clicking. Here I sit, happily waiting to be assigned more work, because the company has made me care about what I’m doing. For while the ocean water swirls all around me, here I sit in this intern sand. I sit and let erosion take place. I feel myself becoming more polished in my skills and smoother in my communication. My resume gains more glimmer and my confidence shines. By the time the tide washes away after my final two semesters, I will be hardened and prepared for whatever seashell picker chooses to pick me up. Prepared to face the heat of the world.

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