For internships to work, both interns and employers need to step up to the plate. Latoya Lewis, founder and executive director of EnventU, a Washington, D.C.-based organization focused on providing young people with hands-on education, career guidance, and mentorship, shares her thoughts on how to develop internship programs where everyone comes out a winner.
SCN: Based on your experience working with students interested in the AV industry, what do they generally want out of an internship with an AV firm?
LaToya Lewis: As we work with students to introduce them to the AV industry, the overall expectation of an internship is to increase awareness of [this industry] and the opportunities that exist within it. AV is one of those industries where you either know about it or you don’t, so the first expectation is to just bridge that gap with potential future #AVTweeps. Our students simply want to be exposed to an industry which had previously been foreign to them, and we encourage them to imagine themselves in it, should they feel compelled by their experience.
SCN: Any advice to AV firms that are embarking on offering internships?
LL: Young people today are true digital natives; having grown up with computers, smartphones, and other digital devices, they consume and absorb information differently. Our methods of education and training must keep up with that reality. Thus, I would encourage companies to take this into consideration as they construct their plan on how to utilize their interns. The task at hand needs to be engaging and interesting, and their attention needs to be kept. Now, believe me, I know first-hand that every assigned duty is not going to be interactive and fun, but I encourage firms to keep the way this generation learns in mind and intersperse various types of tasks for students throughout their day.
At the onset of the internship, I would also recommend clearly outlining what is expected of each student, what the company will provide to them, and the proper channels of communication—and have interns sign an agreement outlining these details. This speaks to how seriously your company takes this experience, and communicating this information in a formal way can contribute greatly to a positive experience.
SCN: What are some of the gripes that students have with the internships that they’ve done?
LL: Students today are motivated by fun and money—two things that don’t always occur with an internship. If they’re not being engaged and [their talents are not being] utilized, it can be a very frustrating experience for them.
Interns need to be challenged, and incentives to meet that challenge should be put in place. I think many adults can underestimate students’ capabilities, and this is often reflected during the internship experience. Not giving young people an opportunity to shine and add a different perspective to your company can be a missed opportunity for organizational growth.
SCN: What follow-up steps should a company take once the internship is over?
LL: As everyone is on social media, the firm should encourage their interns to follow them on their various platforms, along with signing up for their mailing list, if applicable, to stay on top of what’s going on. I would also give students a specific point of contact that they can freely reach out to should they need support in the future. Lastly, for any “superstars” that stood out, invite them to volunteer or work onsite at the next event. Perhaps it can turn into a full-time job.