Internships offer students a hiring advantage

Summer Leadership Development Program: When South Motors and Vista Motors started a summer internship program this year, they were looking for fresh minds.
Summer Leadership Development Program: When South Motors and Vista Motors started a summer internship program this year, they were looking for fresh minds.

Gone are the days of interns fetching coffee. Instead, they’re gaining real-world experience: taking on duties such as developing treatment plans for people with disabilities, creating medical databases in Guatemala and shadowing police officers. Often all before college graduation.

“It’s something none of my friends have seen,” said Carlos Dominguez, who interned at the Miami-Dade Police Department last summer. “Who can say they’ve been to a homicide scene or chased a bad guy?”

The work made Dominguez, 22, see the humanity in both the police and the accused — perspective he hopes will help him when he enters law school this fall.

Those unique experiences set students apart and can increase their chances of finding employment after graduation. Almost 65 percent of interns are offered a job at the end of an internship, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ 2014 Internship & Co-op Survey Report.

Other interns, like Morgan Mendis, 23, nab international internships. Florida International University’s Global Learning Office connected him to an internship with a nonprofit in Guatemala, where he worked to create a medical database for a rural health clinic. Now he’s about to start a job at a healthcare start-up in D.C.

Still others have the opportunity to clock hours toward certifications or degrees. Art Therapist Amanda Pike’s interns serve child bereavement centers, hospitals, homeless shelters and schools for autism spectrum disorders with personalized art therapy protocols they create themselves.

Pike said her interns often score full-time positions, too, either with her or someone in her network.

Most universities encourage students to add at least one internship to their résumé.

“There’s only so much we can do to prepare students for the workforce,” said FIU Director of Career Services Fernando Figueredo. “We need the support of the business community in order to prepare our students, so the perfect partnership is universities working alongside the business community.”

Because of increased scrutiny and tightened federal labor guidelines, many internships today are paid; those that don’t pay a salary should be designed for the training and education, according to court rulings.

Still, employers find they also learn from the arrangement.

When South Motors and Vista Motors started a summer internship program this summer, they were looking for fresh minds. Vista Motors Human Resource Director Priscila Cascardo, who runs the program that paid $10 per hour, said that while the company wanted to show interns that the automobile industry extends beyond the sales department, they also needed interns’ perspectives.

Interns in the Summer Leadership Development Program presented group projects at the mid-point of the summer, during which they identified flaws in the company’s social media strategy. Now, South Motors and Vista Motors are beefing up their online presence.

“It’s our first internship program, and we wanted a lot of feedback from them to see what we could do better,” Cascardo said. “It has been such an amazing experience because, honestly, when I started putting [the curriculum] all together, I wrote it all out on paper. It’s another thing when it comes to life.”

Cascardo was surprised to see how excited the interns were to do hands-on work for the company. They’ll present individual projects this month, and some could be offered full-time positions with the company.

Miami’s business culture hasn’t always supported internships as aggressively as communities like New York, Chicago and Dallas. But the last three- to four years have brought a shift, thanks to civic organizations including The Beacon Council, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and university leadership, said FIU’s Figueredo. Last April, the Beacon Council-initiated One Community One Goal program, for instance, created the Talent Development portal matching students with paid internships.

“[We need to] get in front of business organizations to send the message that we need their support, their involvement, in order to be able to continue developing and increasing the education of our students,” Figueredo said.

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