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Ole Miss internship program building pathway to the future

By NASH NUNNERY

No longer are internships just for college students looking to gain work experience and earn academic credit.

They’re also a way for companies to build a pipeline that attracts young talent.

WESLEY DICKENS

Last month, the University of Mississippi School of Business Administration hosted its first-ever Total Internship Management Workshop in Oxford. Conducted by Intern Bridge Inc., CEO Robert Shindell, the workshop attracted 40 company representatives seeking to build and manage successful internship programs.

Through in-depth proprietary research, the six-hour curricula for the program has been tested and proven effective in hiring and retaining entry-level workers, said Wesley Dickens.

Dickens, assistant director of experiential education at Ole Miss, said the workshop was extremely successful.

“For this being a first-time event, we were very pleased with the turnout,” he said. “Internships are a great opportunity to identify future hires and increase brand awareness on college campuses.

“They’re also vital for students to build employability skills. It really is a win-win for everyone.”

According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ Experiential Education, nearly 40 percent of employers’ full-time, entry-level hires come from their internship programs. Also, nearly two-thirds of interns are offered full-time positions after having interned with an organization.

“Hiring a former intern who knows the job and the company landscape is prudent, and increases the return on investment.” said Dickens, a Columbia native who has been at Ole Miss since 2013.

Dickens said the workshop included statistics from proprietary research. Qualitative and quantitative responses were shared from the National Internship and Co-op Study, a detailed examination of what makes internship programs successful based on the responses of more than 225,000 students from more than 500 universities.

“It covered the nuts-and-bolts in starting an internship program and about organizations buying-in to the idea,” he said. “Other topics included the legal aspects, such as paying interns or not.  Some employers can pay at least minimum wage, others can’t. But when you pay an intern at least a minimum wage, you’re making a possible future investment in your company.”

Attendees also learned internship program structure, what students are seeking, choosing the best supervisor, marketing the opportunity orientation, compensation, benefits and personnel evaluation.

A workforce development and diversity specialist for Entergy, Alex Washington said the workshop was a great reminder of the benefits of experiential learning opportunities such as internship programs.

“Understanding the generational characteristics of college students, as it relates to their career and workplace expectations, strengthens our interactions with interns throughout the entire internship experience,” he said. “The workshop helped as we understand what motivates students and their career expectations.

“We’ve realized that we must work alongside professors and administrators to ensure the bridge to employment begins with industry/workforce and academic alignment.”

Brittney Whittington also attended the workshop and garnered some new ideas about internship management, including the use of a syllabus for future interns at her company.

“It was a great reminder to treat others how they want to be treated,” said Whittington, director of business operations for ProMatura Group, an Oxford-based senior living consulting firm. “I appreciated that the information was applicable to all managers of interns. Regardless of title, it’s important to set expectations and goals, as well as give and ask for feedback.”

Dickens hopes to move future internship management workshops to different locales around the state.

“We’d like to see it in Jackson and on the Gulf Coast in the next couple of years,” he said.

Proper internship management practices might combat so-called ‘brain drain’, the exodus of college graduates and younger workers to other states, Dickens said. A recent study by rethink Mississippi suggests that Mississippi and Louisiana are the only states in the Southeast losing more college graduates than each retains.

“Promoting internships to encourage students to stay in-state after graduation is key for Mississippi companies that want to stop or slow down brain drain in our state,” he added.

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About Nash Nunnery