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  • A Three-Pronged Approach to Develop Internships, Skills

    December 07, 2016 | By NACE Staff

    A female intern smiles at her desk.

    TAGS: internships, nace insights

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

    The University of Arizona is a land-grant institution dedicated to serving the needs of the state. However, with nearly 29 percent of the students hailing from out-of-state and many graduates seeking employment in larger cities, the challenge of keeping talent local is daunting, according to Eileen McGarry.

    McGarry, executive director of employer and community relations at the University of Arizona, adds that maintaining strong employment pipelines has also been difficult given the economic downturn, which has limited both experiential learning and long-term employment opportunities for students.

    “Developing the professional skills and experiences needed to be successful in this competitive economic climate is imperative for underclassmen who now must bring additional skills to the entry-level work force,” she says.

    Through a partnership with the State of Arizona through the Governor’s Office of Workforce Development, the University of Arizona’s Institute for Career Readiness and Engagement (ICRE) takes an innovative approach to solving this imposing challenge.

    “Our aim is to increase internship opportunities within the state while simultaneously preparing underclassmen to fill these roles,” McGarry explains. “Using a three-pronged approach, ICRE has developed and executed effective programming.”

    This approach includes:

    • Edge Internship Readiness Program—This nine-week, strengths-based program is presented in collaboration with the university’s office of leadership programs. Students attend leadership and professional development workshops featuring employer speakers who focus on topics such as job-search and interviewing skills, articulating strengths, and more. Students also attend supplemental “labs” facilitated by peer advisers during which they can actively practice skills or update their resumes and cover letters, and participate in culminating networking events such as the career fair and employer networking receptions to help them make personal connections with employers and gain exposure to a variety of internship opportunities.
    • Arizona Employer Treks—These day-long exploratory tours feature various industry partners with robust internship programs. Students are transported from Tucson to the Phoenix area, where they tour facilities, receive professional development advice from recruiters, and interact with organizational leaders who provide insider information about the field at large.
    • Peer Intern Program—Peer interns are highly trained upperclassmen who assist in program development and execution, and provide walk-in services such basic resume checks, assistance with the university’s job-posting service, and presentations to student organizations. With this program, the career center has also been able to expand its outreach efforts to include satellite services in residence halls and additional after-hours, career-related programming.

    “The overarching goal of the Institute’s three programming components is to better equip students with the skills they need to successfully find and complete professional internships,” McGarry says.

    McGarry reports that overall program outcomes have been very promising and have generated an institutional commitment to maintaining student programming beyond the current funding provided by the Governor’s Workforce Grant and increased internship opportunities by 35 percent.

    In the Edge Program, 100 percent of students self-reported an increase in their confidence related to all skills measured, with the top five largest gains related to:

    • Navigating career fairs/networking events
    • Networking via social media
    • Networking with employers in-person
    • Describing strengths
    • Making positive first impressions

    On average, gains in confidence went from a “3.0” to “4.0” on a 5-point Likert scale with “5” representing the most confidence.

    “While a review of expectations indicated students participated in Edge for a variety of reasons, 89 percent of students indicated interest in applying for internships, compared to 28 percent in the initial pre-assessment,” associate director Mary Frances Kuper says, adding that Employer Treks garnered similarly positive outcomes when analyzing post-event surveys.

    Employer Treks serve students from 55 majors, with 94 percent of students indicating that they gained more knowledge about careers in the highlighted field. In terms of satisfaction, 95 percent of students would recommend attending an employer trek to a friend. Once again, 100 percent of students reported an increase across each area with the exception of motivation to pursue a career in the field or with a specific company.

    “This outcome isn’t surprising given the exploratory nature of these tours,” McGarry notes.

    Outcomes for the Peer Internship program indicated that peer interns saw more than 650 students during walk-in hours, fielding questions and providing early career guidance related to resumes, job searching, and graduate school exploration.

    In the first two years of the grant, employer outreach efforts helped grow internship postings in the Wildcat JobLink site by 35 percent. The majority of that growth was from companies in Arizona.

    “Building internship capacity for our students in Arizona is a challenging and ongoing process as internships take an investment on the part of small businesses and mid-size companies with limited capacity,” McGarry explains. “A majority of companies in Tucson and many in Phoenix fit these categories. Yet, as we all know, small business is where the largest job growth is nationally.”

    That said, the institute has helped the university create more exposure to Arizona businesses and has helped it align with community leaders who are passionate about talent acquisition issues in the state and want to lend their support to its efforts. Two recent examples include:

    • The Tucson Chamber of Commerce has formed a partnership with the university through AZ Earn to Learn, a unique program that matches college savings of low- to middle-income high school students to support their in-state tuition. The University of Arizona is partnering to grow internship capacity for these students in Tucson.
    • The University of Arizona’s Wildcat Executive Network in Phoenix is a group of committed and high-profile alumni who serve as a conduit to business leaders in Greater Phoenix. These network members are reaching out to engage employers in internships.

    “This all came to us because we were well aligned with the university’s strategic plan and a major institutional initiative promoting that every student can gain real-world, hands-on experience in their chosen field before they graduate,” McGarry says.

    With that in mind, she offers several tips for career centers looking to offer a program similar to the ICRE’s three-pronged approach:

    • Be ready and nimble—Align with your university’s goals, be open to opportunity, and be prepared to act quickly.
    • Know what’s needed—Identify the issues for your campus and determine if retaining talent is an issue in your state.
    • Allocate your resources—Have a strong student-facing team to develop the career readiness programs and promote employer treks, and a strong employer-facing team to conduct outreach to and engage employers. Further into the program, the team at the University of Arizona found that employers are more likely to participate if they have internship programs or other ways to engage students so they can see benefits down the road from their participation.
    • Align with community influencers—Prepare to message and market the program and its goals for the university effectively. The more you engage both internal and external stakeholders in the program, the greater the benefit to everyone. It is also key to align with college programs and campus departments to ensure students will be supported to engage in the program.

    “The Institute of Career Readiness and Engagement has become a valuable conduit of the university’s unique 100 percent engagement initiative to fulfill a commitment to applied learning and career readiness while building the talent pipelines to keep more talent in Arizona,” McGarry says.

    “Through its strategic outreach to Arizona employers to develop internship capacity, its community partnership efforts to expose UA students to ‘best in class’ Arizona workplaces, and expanded career readiness programming, the institute has paved the way to fuel the growth of our local economy while enhancing student career success.”