Benfits of Volunteer Internships To Local Government and Students
Even after students declare a college major, their career options remain plentiful. The more opportunities they explore during college, the better able they’ll be to choose an occupation that's a good match. Internships are a way for students to test drive new careers, sample different types of businesses, learn leadership skills, show off their expertise, and decide if what they are studying is really the right match for them.
Internships have been around more than a decade and many local governments have toyed with the idea of engaging interns, but have never implemented it as part of their volunteer program. Could it be that some volunteer managers just aren’t sure how to sell the idea to leadership or maybe because staff just isn’t buying the concept? Here are some tips to help you get an internship program started, along with some reasoning to help get your local officials on board.
Who Are These Interns?
Typically the college student who scurries to find an internship opportunity has initiative, goals and high expectations for their future. These students not only want to build a resume, but also want to see if their college goals are a good match for them. The students see internships as stepping stones to bringing their career to life. That enthusiasm has a tendency to be contagious for those who work with them.
Interns can be paid or non-paid; they could be working on their bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or finished with their degrees. The basic premise of an internship is to take the organization or field of work out for a test drive. Depending on the level of the intern, the organization can also test drive the intern for compatibility as a future employee.
How Do You Sell the Idea?
Government organizations that need temporary staff for special projects are a great place to utilize internships. Challenge the intern to bring out the value of the project. Don’t short change the intern or your organization by providing only menial tasks to supplement your secretarial pool or you’ll both be disappointed. Interns want to learn and apply program theory and management to workflow. Clinical experiences should take place in a health care setting or health department. In local government, internships directly related to the student’s area of study can be in numerous departments, including building inspections, environmental services, park planning, engineering, city manager’s office and fire. Practicum and cooperative education provide workplace settings in which students gain practical experience in a particular discipline, enhance skills and integrate knowledge such as libraries, finance or police.
Internships offer the opportunity of better trained employees while developing new talent in the employer’s organizations. Not only does an intern bring enthusiasm to the work place, they also bring up-to-date theories and business practices that relate to that field. Not to mention that internships are just point blank great recruitment and retention tools for any organization.
If the best public relations tool is an employee, then the second best is an intern. They are a great resource to educate your community about what happens within your organization. Local governments have been championing this concept for year, using interns to teach about the governmental process and politics in a way most textbooks miss. The partnership between the education institution and your organization can also foster other community or training opportunities.
As our workforce continues to age, governments like all other organizations are looking for educated individuals to fill needed positions. These internships bring to the forefront students who may otherwise not have come our way. Where better to teach students how their government runs or introduces them to politics? Local governments have diversity in departments, from police to park planning and libraries to environmental services, where students can use their talents and explore a career in this sector.
How Do You Start an Internship Program?
Start with what you know by reviewing your organization’s existing job descriptions to determine the ones applicable to college interns. Next talk to departments in the organization and collect their ideas for projects an intern can do. Write a job description for the internship and advertise it on your organization’s Web site, www.volunteermatch.com, through an area volunteer center or the local college. It’s best to start with just one or two. Another place to list your internships is on co-op and service learning Web sites. You can also opt to post a generic job description such as: “College interns can volunteer throughout the year utilizing their skills while they learn more about leadership. Our office would be happy to work with your college to find places for students in different departments. For more information contact...”
The City of Plano, Texas, advertises for college interns throughout the year and matches them as they contact the city. In the past year, interns were used in Building Inspections, Engineering, Park Planning, Environmental Services, Police, Health Department, Plano Television Network, and Parks and Recreation. It’s a surprise to see the projects departments come up with once they know a student is available and interested in their area.
Requests will usually come by e-mail. When students approach your program, review their interests to see if their skills and major fit one of your departments. You can request more information before actually meeting with the students and can suggest they visit your Web site to find the department that best compliments their field of study.
In the summer of 2008 the City of Plano had 12 interns. Three interns went to the Police Department, where they use interns all year long. The job descriptions were ready and assignments were easy to make. The libraries are always willing to take a Master's of Library Science practicum student and they had one this summer. In June, the Health Department made a special request for a student with a science/biology major to assist with a special research project. The others students were matched up by reviewing the answers to e-mail, through a phone conversation with the Volunteer Manager and Volunteer Supervisor, and with an outline of requirements from their school.
At first you might stay with safe choices, such as office assistant, databases development, Web site design, data entry and scanning, research projects, newsletter writing or environmental specialists, but actually the possibilities are endless.
How Does an Internship Program Work?
The length of the internship depends on the school and the number of credits the student requires. Service Learning requirements can start as low as 15 hours, while credit internships can go as high as 360 hours. This information should be discussed up front with the student and the department, so they both know what’s expected and can plan ahead.
The school or student should share the Course Description, Course Focus and Course Competencies with the Volunteer Supervisor. Here’s an example:
Course Description: Career-related activities encountered in the student’s area of specialization offered through an individualized agreement among the college, employer and student. Under the supervision of the college and the employer, the student combines classroom learning with work experience.
Work experience should:
A. add a unique dimension to classroom instruction through on-the-job experience and training
B. test career aptitude and interest against practical job requirements before graduation
C. develop self-confidence, maturity, professional skills and an understanding of human relations
D. help gain a professional contact that may be used as a reference for after-graduation employment
A. improve interpersonal skills in class and on the job
B. work as a team member to accomplish the employer's goals
C. meet with members of your work group to identify problems that need to be addressed
The final grade will be determined by a criteria established by the student’s college. However here is an example:
Course Work Assessment
The volunteer manager completes the Course Agreement form; establishes learning objectives with the student and instructor/coordinator; evaluates the learning objectives to decide if they were completed in a satisfactory manner; and completes an Evaluation Form.
The student is under the direct or close supervision of a qualified college faculty member who will provide you with the paperwork needed. Steps to supervising an intern are similar to supervising an employee or volunteer: orientation, training, guidance and review of the student’s activities. The additional supervision includes a few e-mails to the college faculty to understand what is expected of the student and completing mid-session and end-of-session evaluations.
College academic courses are just one part of preparing for a future career. New graduates need to offer something extra in their resumes to prospective employers, and that's where an internship is helpful. An internship helps students gain hands-on experience and shows employers they have taken extra steps to learn more about their career. Best of all, they introduce supervisors to their next generation of employees.
Short description of this series: "Organizations
are successful at achieving their mission when volunteers and staff
are a team. Evaluate the elements of the relationships in your organization
and outline the strategies to make things better."
The author of the Local Government
Volunteer Programs page is Robin Popik.
Robin has been the Volunteer Resources Supervisor for the City of Plano
for over 17 years. Under her direction, the Volunteer Resources Group
now has grown to encompass 3 programs. The original program VIP has grown
to approx. 5000 volunteers per year, with an average of 1000 individuals
a month, with a value of over $1.2 million a year. The program has been
recognized as a model and has won numerous awards including the Distinguished
Service Award from the Association of Volunteer Administration, the Civic
and Leadership group award and the Texas Governors Leadership Award. Robin
is President of Collin County VOAD (Volunteer Organization Active in Disaster)
and is the Citizen Corp Council representative for Plano. She has been
a trainer and has written articles on many topics related to Volunteer
Management. She is the past president the National Association of Volunteer
Programs in Local Government, and member of ARNOVA, an international membership
organization dedicated to fostering through research an understanding
of the nonprofit sector, philanthropy and volunteerism. She has a Masters
in Management from the University of Texas at Dallas and a certification
in Volunteer Management from the University of Colorado, and in the past
few years, has taking numerous courses in Emergency Volunteer Management
including FEMA courses: 1) Emergency Operation Center; 2) Incident Command
Systems; 3) Donations Management; 4) Volunteer Management in Disaster;
5) CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) Program, 6) Public Information
Officer course (4/04) and Integrated Emergency Management Course at EMI
(8/04), NIMS 700, 100, and 200 and American Red Cross Shelter Management.
ASSOCIATION FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT
VOLUNTEER MANAGERS SEEKS MEMBERS
The National Association of Volunteer
Programs in Local Government (NAVPLG)
is an association of administrators, coordinators and directors of volunteer
programs in local government. Its purpose is to strengthen volunteer programs
in local government through leadership, advocacy, networking and information
exchange. NAVPLG is an affiliate of the National Association of Counties
and is seeking affiliate status with the National League of Cities. Cost
is $20 for individuals and $75 for group local government membership.
An affiliate membership is $25 and is intended for those who are not local
government members but may have an interest in the group. There is a quarterly
newsletter, national network, and access to NACo's Volunteerism Project.
For more information contact Robin Popik,
who is a Volunteer Resource Supervisor. She can be reached by phone at
972-941-7114. Be sure to mention you read about this in Volunteer Today.