Collegiate chapter: Student Perspectives on Business Internship Programs

In the previous Collegiate Chapter installment, I began a series that would focus on internship programs in industry. The results of a study, entitled, “Undergraduate Business Internships and Career Success: Are They Related?,” by Jack Gault, John Redington and Tammy Schlager, which appeared in the Journal of Marketing Education were reviewed.

The researchers found a significant difference in the internship preparation over the university classroom experience in five skill set areas, namely, computer applications, creative thinking, job interviewing, job networking and relationship building.

In another research study, “Student expectations of collegiate internship programs in business: A 10-year update,” J. Andrew Cannon and Mark J. Arnold found that students have developed a stronger practical attitude toward college internship programs in business. Their research article appeared in the Journal of Education for Business. According to the authors, “students are increasingly seeing the internship less as a vehicle for augmenting their education, and more as a means of gaining a competitive edge in the marketplace for new jobs.”

The results of this study should be of particular interest to managers in the graphic communications industry who are trying to attract productive student interns to their companies during these challenging economic times. The researchers in this study sampled marketing majors from three different universities in Midwestern states. To keep the findings general, three types of universities were selected, namely, a private university in an urban area, a private university in a rural area, and a state university within the proximity of a large city. There were a total of 164 students responding to the questionnaire.

According to Cannon and Arnold, “students felt most strongly that the Department of Marketing should offer internship opportunities and that internships are valuable experiences, more valuable in fact than case courses or guest speakers.”

Students also expressed a desire to have an internship experience near their school. They also expected to receive college credit for the internship experience and wanted to receive on-the-job training similar to the training that would be offered a new entry-level employee. The researchers stated that these desires were in line with their findings that students were using the internship experience as a way to gain a competitive advantage in the job market upon graduation. The researchers explained that these expectations of students are significantly different than those of students in early studies on internships. They contribute these differences to what they considered to be factors in relation to a changing employment market.

“The student of today generally sees the internship not just as a supplement to coursework or extension of the classroom, but rather as a separate component of their preparation for the job market, one that is becoming more essential in obtaining post-college employment,” stated the authors. “This study provides insight into the expectations of today’s business student regarding college internships and how those expectations have changed.”

According to Cannon and Arnold, the implications for management programs in the university are clear. “First, consideration should be given ensuring that the strategic focus of the internship program reflects both the reality of the employment market and what students expect from such programs.”

Universities must realize that although an internship program might have originally been designed to simply extend a student’s knowledge base in business education, it has now become an important tool in gaining employment.

“Second, business schools should strongly consider allocating additional resources to their internship programs and further encouraging student participation. The effort should focus on increasing the quantity and the quality of internships available.”

Administrators and professors in business programs should take part in the inspection of internship programs with an emphasis on rating the practical training offered in each program as well as the commitment of the intern’s immediate supervisor.

“Finally, business schools should not administer their internship programs in a vacuum. They should recognize that such programs operate within an increasingly challenging and expensive academic curriculum offering students more flexibility in their internship programs.”

Cannon and Arnold explained that this study contributed to the understanding of the need for business schools to redesign their internship programs in a way that will focus on the competitive nature of employment opportunities during challenging times.

Greg D’Amico is a member of the faculty in Graphic Communications at Kean University, Union, N.J., and the author of Customer-Centered Production, and Customer-Centered Marketing, both published by NAPL.