President's Perspective

High School Internships Help Develop Tomorrow’s Workforce

June 29, 2017

Photo Credit: Urban Alliance

by Carol Thompson Cole

As I walked through the VPP office this week, I was excited to see some new faces. This summer, Venture Philanthropy Partners is hosting three young people as interns. Seeing them reminded me of my first exposure to work, an internship at the U.S. Department of Agriculture after I graduated high school. And each summer through graduate school, I enhanced my education with experiences that helped me discover new things and deepened my understanding of what type of career I might pursue in as I reached adulthood. The lessons learned were significant contributors to success in college and career. We want our summer interns to have the same experiences. During their time with us, our interns will support each of our VPP’s departments, including finance and operations, development, program and evaluations, and communications. By the end of their internship, they will have gained applicable skills in research, public speaking, writing and strategic thinking. VPP welcomes interns each year because we are committed to helping young people get college and career ready.

Helping young people secure opportunities to gain valuable, hands-on experience is a critical piece of VPP’s Ready for Work (RfW) initiative. The goal of Ready for Work is to make sure that students in three Prince George’s County high schools transition into adulthood with the skills and experience that they need to be ready for college and employment. One of the three strategies that will help us to achieve this goal is giving students work experiences before they graduate from high school. We’ve partnered with the Prince George’s County Youth@Work/Summer Youth Enrichment Program, which provides participants ages 15-19 with job readiness training and connects youth with local businesses to provide robust internship experiences.

For example, GEICO hosted several students as paid interns last summer through the work experience strategy of RfW. The interns were able to get a sense of many different aspects of Human Resources and Information Technology. One student even launched a healthy living campaign to encourage team members to live healthier lifestyles, a testament to the fact that internships give students real-world experiences that they can carry with them in the future. In addition to the six-week internship, Youth@Work also provides job-readiness training, so that interns are comfortable and confident when they begin their internships. Our partnership with Youth@Work stretches beyond investing money and time to expand internship opportunities with more local businesses. We are also supporting the program by hosting our own Youth@Work intern this summer.

When some people think about internships, they picture a college student who wants to get experience in their major and is looking to flesh out their resume as they quickly head toward a career. But, what if students have the chance to start preparing for careers while they are still in high school? High school is an especially important point of intervention for disadvantaged young people because they can become vulnerable to multiple distractions that can interfere with their life trajectory. Participating in an internship in high school will not only make them stand out among peers, but when young people have core skills combined with direct work experience, they learn the skills and behaviors to help them succeed – making them more likely to graduate high school and continue on to a career or college in the future.

Some of the valuable takeaways that students get from their internship experiences are:

      • Understanding the various aspects of the work environment;
      • Acquiring positive workplace habits and behaviors; and
      • Developing an understanding of the contributions they can make in professional environments.

Internships are also extremely important in building our workforce and improving our economy. As highlighted recently in The Washington Post, employers are finding it increasingly challenging to find the talent that they need. Too many young people are leaving school not fully prepared for successful employment and businesses are concerned about what that will mean for the workforce in the future. Local leaders have the opportunity to address this concern and build our future workforce if they provide internships to high school students. Businesses taking the lead as Ready for Work Champions hosting interns this summer include GEICO, Kaiser Permanente, Old Line Bank and Industrial Bank.

When business leaders invest in students early, they can expand the pipeline of talented, diverse and prepared employees from within our local community. Businesses can also benefit from young interns because they are bright, energetic and ready to contribute new ideas.

We are looking forward to seeing how our interns learn and grow this summer and VPP learns and grows from them.