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  • The Key Skills Employers Develop in Their Interns

    July 19, 2017 | By NACE Staff

    A group of interns learn on the job.

    TAGS: internships, competencies, trends and predictions, surveys, nace insights

    Spotlight for Recruiting Professionals

    When it comes to selecting students for their internship programs, employers have a set of five competencies that are crucial for students to possess. In terms of skill development, these are also among the skills employers are helping their interns to build during the students’ internships.

    Employers responding to NACE’s 2017 Internship & Co-op Survey have consistently identified the following competencies as crucial for intern hires to possess: 

    • Information processing;
    • Teamwork;
    • Planning/prioritizing;
    • Decision making/problem solving; and
    • Verbal communication. (See Figure 1.)

    In their article titled “Internships as a Pedagogical Approach to Soft-Skill Development” that will appear in the August 2017 issue of the NACE Journal, Kimberly Stack, director of the Center for Career and Experiential Education at the University of Rhode Island (URI), and Jacquelyn Fede, a graduate student in URI’s behavioral science program, reported on research they conducted that found that students rated their soft-skill ability significantly higher in four domains—communication skills, initiative, teamwork, and analytical skills—at the end of the internship compared to the beginning of the internship. Results were similar for supervisors.

    Students and supervisors also rated each individual soft skill significantly higher at the end of the internship compared to the beginning of the internship. The largest differences between pre-internship and post-internship soft skills were related to communication:

    • For students, “communicating with a person in charge” and “asserting my own opinion” were the largest areas of growth.
    • Employers rated “asserting their own opinions” and “expressing ideas and concepts clearly” as the largest areas of development for their interns pre- and post-internship.

    Supervisors also saw their interns make gains on the initiative scale, including “logically approaching a problem,” “approaching a problem independently,” and “requesting increased responsibility.” Meanwhile, one of the top skills with the highest gains for students was “recommending solutions,” an analytical thinking skill.

    Although teamwork had the lowest mean gains as ranked both by students and supervisors, both groups agreed that students entered the internship with a more developed adeptness for teamwork, which may be related to characteristics associated with the Millennial generation.

    NACE’s 2017 Internship & Co-op Survey was conducted from November 21, 2016, to February 17, 2017, from NACE employer members; there were 276 respondents, representing 26.4 percent of all eligible respondents. The 2017 Internship & Co-op Survey report is available to participants through MyNACE. An executive summary of the 2017 Internship & Co-op Survey is available on NACEWeb.

    For more from Stack and Fede’s research, see “Internships as a Pedagogical Approach to Soft-Skill Development,” which will appear in the August 2017 issue of the NACE Journal.

    Figure 1: Preferred competencies for intern hires

    Competency 2015 2016 2017
    % of respondents
    Information processing 95.6% 94.4% 98.7%
    Teamwork 96.9% 94.9% 94.9%
    Planning/prioritizing 92.6% 93.5% 89.7%
    Decision making/problem solving 90.4% 84.6% 89.7%
    Verbal communication 90.6% 90.7% 88.5%
    Data analysis 75.4% 71.0% 76.9%
    Computer skills 66.2% 63.2% 61.5%
    Job-specific technical skills/knowledge 58.3% 58.4% 51.3%
    Written communication 45.0% 37.1% 30.8%
    Selling/influencing 24.9% 17.8% 28.2%
    Source: 2017 Internship & Co-op Survey, National Association of Colleges and Employers
    In this analysis, a criterion was defined as “important” if a respondent who used that criterion considered it either “very important” (4) or “extremely important” on a 5-point scale.