Employers Learn from Eager Students


[Above: Maureen Coyn, left, manager of cardiology research and education at Greenville Health System, and Clemson student Anna Grace Tindal talk on the cardiology floor of Greenvile Memorial Hospital. Tindal interned at the hospital last summer and hopes to again this summer.]

April is crunch time for students looking for summer internships, and the best ones will be looking to give as much as they receive. At the same time that employers are looking for highly skilled people to fill vacant positions and prepare for massive retirements across industries, college students are stacking up internships to build a competitive advantage against their peers.

The young people bring a lot to the table.

“There’s a tremendous opportunity to get a fresh set of learners who are learning the latest in their education, but also bring some fresh perspectives to the workplace,” said Brenda Thames, vice president for academic and faculty affairs at Greenville Health System. The company hosts more than 100 interns each year in departments including marketing, IT, facilities, academics and HR. Thames said the students bring knowledge of newest technologies, or insightful questions or research projects that can benefit GHS.

That process has become formalized in recent years, said Suzan Zeiger, who heads the internship office at Furman University. She said students give presentations and debrief employers with their suggestions at the end of the internship. Thames said on the research side, GHS can measure interns’ direct impact on projects.

Although internships are temporary by definition, employment is the golden ticket that usually goes unmentioned.

“You could almost be recruiting,” said Thames. “If you find somebody who’s good at what they do and fits within your world of work, that saves a lot of money and time.”

Employers have come to expect internships on graduates’ resumes. “It’s almost becoming a norm. Certainly in business, economics and any of the research sciences,” Zeiger said. Most students do more than one.

“I’ve never heard anybody [on the faculty] say that you need more than one, but it’s pretty much implied,” said Anna Grace Tindal, a sophomore marketing major at Clemson who spent last summer interning in the cardiology department at GHS. “You hear what other people are doing and it can be kind of intimidating … employment is always on the edge of your thoughts, especially in this economy,” she said.

Yet students are also aware of what they should be getting out of the relationship, especially if school officials helped facilitate the internship.

Controversy over internship pay made national headlines when former interns, mostly in the entertainment and communications industries, sued employers who they said violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by effectively employing them full-time without pay. Some of them knowingly reduced staff size while increasing the number of full-time internships.

The key to fairness is for employers to ensure interns are learning as much as they are doing, and follow the clear federal rules regarding internships, Zeiger said.

Tindal is now searching for another internship and says she wants to know that her time will be well spent. She found it rewarding to see the communications, financial and research aspects of cardiology at GHS. She and others are not concerned with pay when the hours are fair and the mentorship is comprehensive.

The coming months would be the best time to start planning for companies that might want to add an internship program in the fall. Zeiger said she spends the summers working with such companies and that Furman’s internship roster has grown from 50 to 280 opportunities in past eight years.




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