Intern Appeal

Maintaining a trained and energetic workforce is a challenge in today’s austere budget environment.

College students share their thoughts about internships. Photo Courtesy © Can Stock Photo Inc. /

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With increasing demand to “do more with less,” layoffs, retirements of key employees, and reductions in operating hours, park and recreation agencies need to be creative in their approach to recruiting and developing young talent.

Offering internship opportunities is one way to effectively identify and train future leaders.

Students trained in parks and recreation, sports administration, recreation management, and related fields often cite their internship experience as one of the most beneficial aspects of the college curriculum.

While students clearly see the value of internships, numerous obstacles may limit their selection as well as their satisfaction of an internship experience. For example, many students who aspire to be park and recreation professionals are challenged with increased tuition costs, financial limitations, uncertain career paths, and curriculum requirements.

More recently, students have found that internships offering paid stipends, opportunities for future job placement, and other financial perks (e.g., free housing and meals) are more limited than ever before.

Understanding the challenges faced by students can assist these organizations in developing innovative strategies for recruiting, training, and retaining qualified young professionals, thus improving the field’s ability to sustain its workforce into the next decade.

In order to address these issues, a survey of park and recreation seniors from two college programs in Pennsylvania was conducted to learn more about the challenges faced when deciding upon an internship site. This article presents the key findings from that study and offers potential solutions for reducing perceived barriers to increase the attractiveness of an organization.

Motivations

On average, students considered two to four agencies for their internship. Besides wanting to complete their graduation requirements, students were also motivated to apply their skills, to experience something new, and contribute their ideas.

The following are two typical student responses:

• “I was excited to find out my internship site.”

• “I wanted to choose a site that would parallel my academic focus as well as my personal interest.”

Lastly, and not surprisingly, a large percentage of the students (almost one-half) were hoping their internship would lead to a future job at that site.

Expectations

In order to better understand what students expect from their internships, participants were asked what they believed was the role of the internship agency. A five-part Likert-type scale (1=strongly disagree, 2=disagree, 3=neutral, 4=agree, and 5=strongly agree) was used to determine this.

Overall, the top-three responses (based on scores of 4 and 5) by students were that park and recreation agencies should:

• Provide orientation and training opportunities for professional development (89%)

• Allow students to lead programs (85%)

• Allow students to manage staff (52%).

Barriers

Participants were provided a list of potential barriers that might hinder their internship choice and were asked to rate the importance of these barriers on a 5-point scale (1=not a barrier, 3=somewhat of a barrier, and 5=a significant barrier). However, barriers did not appear overwhelming for students.

For example, almost one-half (44%) of the students reported that the barriers did not impede their selection. However, barriers cited by a sizable percentage (scoring a 3, 4, or 5) of the sample were:

• The internship did not provide a stipend (56%).

• There was no free housing (46%).

• Internship choices were too far from my home (37%).

• I felt I did not have enough skills to do a good job at my internship (33%).

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