By Bassem Mansour
Summer jobs evoke a rite of passage for teenagers as life guards or ice cream vendors, but there is another type of summer job that is equally important – the college-level internship. These experiences give young people a leg up when they enter the professional world, but, increasingly, employers are offering these jobs with little or no pay.
For the most part, the tightfisted approach doesn’t hurt wealthier students who already have plenty of money, but it leaves behind less-affluent young people who need the income.
Employers in Greater Cleveland need to take heed. Too many of our college students, bizarrely, can’t afford to accept these internships, and the loss is not only to those students but to our businesses as well.
Summer jobs have a deep historical resonance, as they recall schools in the nineteenth century that closed for a few months each year so students could lend a hand on the family farm. But internships, as we think of them today – as entry points into the professions or other white-collar fields – are a more recent development, assuming their current form only in the 1960s and 1970s. As recently as the early 1980s, just 3 percent of college students interned; today, 75 percent do.
These internships have become a way for young people to try out careers, gain valuable work experience and make important connections. They make a genuine difference. Two in three employers surveyed said the first thing they look for in a prospective hire is practical experience in their field, and four in five employers said new employees who have had internships work out better. Just as college is no longer the differentiator it was decades ago, internships are no longer something that is nice to have but instead a prerequisite for employment.
And there’s the rub. The immense value of these internships allows employers to hire talented young people for the summer with little or even no pay (let alone housing subsidies for internships that require living away from home). All of this imposes obvious sacrifices on the students themselves – so great that the students who need to help support their families or save money for college cannot accept those jobs.
The result is a two-tiered system, in which access to career-shaping internships increasingly is available only to young people from affluent families. Students from lower- or middle-income families must forego these opportunities. With equality of opportunity a growing concern, we are closing off an important channel to success at the start of these young lives.
We at Resilience Capital Partners have a summer program in which we offer internships to five young people, selected without regard to wealth or income. In order to ensure they all can participate, we pay them fairly.
The program requires a commitment not only in pay but also in staff time to supervise, instruct and mentor our young employees. And guess what – it’s worth it. Our interns know this is a great opportunity, and they are invariably hardworking, energetic and enthusiastic. They are fully committed to their work, often putting in more hours than their seniors, who are then free for higher-value tasks.
Our interns also serve as a kind of focus group. They keep us in touch with what is new, what is emerging, what is the next big thing. If you don’t have college students in your midst, you probably won’t know the answer to any of those questions, but, if you’re investing in the future as we are, you better find out.
Every employer can receive similar benefits – and contribute to the future – by providing internships and recruiting widely for them. And don’t forget to pay them fairly, so that the students don’t have to make sacrifices to be part of your organization. In doing so, the doors of opportunity will be kept wide open so that all may pass through.
Regardless of how we do it, we in the business world have an interest in supporting young people as they make their way in the world. We owe it to them – and to ourselves. It starts with one – one executive, one company, one intern. Let’s get started!
Bassem Mansour is co-Chief Executive Officer of Resilience Capital Partners