By Julie Little
“What’s the difference between a job and an internship?” was the opening question posed by Jan Bigalk, member of the Harmony Area Chamber of Commerce and coordinator of this summer’s new internship program. She addressed several Harmony business owners with an interest in providing internships at a “Teach and Learn” session on March 7. “With a job,” she explained, “employees sign on to do certain tasks and they do those tasks. With an internship, your interns work side by side with you, the business owner, to learn about how the business operates.” Interns have tasks to do, but they are learning, not only with the tasks, but also beyond the tasks. These internships are paid positions – real jobs with real responsibilities – but they are meant to provide value to both employer and intern that is greater than what a regular job offers.
Perhaps you’re a student with a passion for videography and a knack with social media. A business owner may take you in for the summer, open your eyes to the operation, marketing, and character of a business, welcome you to shadow, and support you as you apply your talents to attract customers in a new way. Perhaps your interest is law. A law firm may hire you to do various tasks in their office for pay, but may also invite you to sit in on a legal conference if clients approve, or go to court with them for that first-hand experience. Perhaps you are thinking about tourism and dream of opening your own restaurant, retail operation, local attraction, B&B, or hotel some day. An owner of a hospitality or retail business may offer you a position to work with them for the summer and give you insights, talk to you about their experience, and help you understand what you would need to do to go into business for yourself. And that’s just the beginning of the possibilities.
Greg Schieber of Nethercut-Schieber Attorneys, PLLP, says his firm is contemplating taking on an intern. “I grew up in a small town,” he recalls, “and I might not have ended up in this occupation if I hadn’t had the chance to spend time in a law office. [Employers participating, especially this first year, are] breaking ground and setting an example in the community.” This is a big responsibility for an employer, taking time, using energy, creativity, and a willingness to involve the intern. “It’s an investment and if you can make it, it will pay dividends long term.”
Cindy Ofstedal, owner of Asahi Loft in Harmony, has observed younger travelers. She says, “They have a completely different way of accessing services. You won’t find them looking in the yellow pages. They pull their information off their phones and use social media – and it’s for all kinds of businesses, not just tourism.” Students could open doors to a better social media presence for Harmony businesses who are not already making use of it. Ofstedal would like to see Harmony businesses collaborate. If several businesses worked together, it would keep students busy and engaged and give them a variety of experiences that would look great on a resume.
More Harmony businesses are welcome to participate. “We would like to offer a broad range of opportunities that fit student interests,” says Bigalk. “There are businesses here in Harmony that students might not even be aware of. It would be desirable to place students in the trades like welding or repair, or in childcare or medical facilities, for instance.” If Harmony business owners are interested in offering an internship, it’s not too late. Owners should contact Jan Bigalk with their questions soon. Participating businesses must be able to offer the intern between five and 20 hours per week. (Interns may accept multiple internships provided the hours are compatible or businesses work out a way to collaborate and share.)
This is the timeline and explanation of the program in a nutshell: Businesses submit a “Request for Interns” where they describe their organization and the internship, specify the skills and qualifications needed, and identify the benefits an intern will gain by working with them this summer. This one-page short answer request form is to be submitted to Jan Bigalk by April 7, 2017. Soon after, the Fillmore Central Schools principal, Heath Olstad, will put out a call to interested students and post the available opportunities. Students who are between 15-18 on June 1, 2017 are eligible to participate. These students take advantage of career building instruction and activities such as resume and cover letter writing and hone their skills in mock interviewing. Jan Bigalk receives applications from students and conducts brief interviews herself, giving feedback to students and providing a summary of what she learns to employers. Employers also receive the resumes and set up interviews with their top candidates. Then, employers select their top candidates and offer the position. And, finally, students choose their internship.
There is a pool of grant money that will be distributed equally among participating businesses. The business owner hires the student and puts him or her on the payroll to be paid regular wages. Mid-summer, evaluations will be conducted – the business owner evaluates the student intern, and the intern evaluates his or her experience with the business. Also at this time, grant money is distributed among the participating businesses in the form of a student scholarship to help with intern expenses. A second set of evaluations will be conducted at the end of the internship to see what worked well and what could be improved.
Jan Bigalk concludes, “Another difference between a job and an internship is that an internship ends.” The period of employment for the intern is approximately the beginning of June through the end of August. After that, it is up to the business and the student to determine if a regular non-internship job will follow.
Bigalk is also thinking ahead to the future: “We hope to offer this opportunity with grant money in subsequent years and that the program will grow in both businesses offering internships and students taking advantage of them. Surrounding communities are watching Harmony and may join us in offering internship opportunities.” It is a matter of applying for a grant each year and being approved. It is also a matter of all parties – employers, interns, school, and community – working to make the experience valuable and meaningful for each other. It is a commitment, but one with the potential for great rewards.
Contact Jan Bigalk at (507) 886-2629 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you are a Harmony business owner with questions or an interest in offering an internship this summer.