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Greenville Business Magazine

Internships Keep Talent Pipeline Flowing

May 01, 2018 08:59PM ● By Makayla Gay

By AnnaMarie Koehler-Shepley

   Between businesses looking for new recruits, universities distinguishing their graduates, and students seeking real-world work experience, the role of an internship, paid or unpaid, has almost eclipsed that of an entry-level position.

To facilitate this trend, many campuses, including Furman University, have an entire department dedicated to internships. According to the university’s website, more than 70 percent of students will complete an internship before graduating, and more than 250 local businesses hire Furman students as interns.

Susan Zeiger is the director of Furman’s internship program, and spends much of her day meeting with students and matching them with internships that align with their long-term career goals.

“Internships are part exploratory, where students are exploring and finding out what their interests are, and then obviously they’re opportunities for networking and gaining knowledge and skills for their next steps,” she said.

Zeiger, who’s served as director for the last 12 years, says that in the last decade internships have risen in popularity.

“The business culture has allowed internships to be used mainly as a pipeline to recruit new talent and prospectives; internships are a great testing ground,” Zeiger said.  “On the flip side, more and more schools are incorporating it into the curriculum or encouraging students and making it part of their programming and engaged learning.”

The necessity of graduates to already have work experience before trying to land their first job or get into graduate school has also contributed to the rise in popularity of internships.

“Forty percent of our students go directly to graduate school, and they’re expecting them to have experience and hours and some tangible rationale about what they want to study further,” Zeiger said. “Citing some experience in the field is a good way to do it. All in all, it’s a perfect storm for everyone to have an internship.”

In the business world of Greenville, many companies are benefiting from their bright-eyed new hires.

Rev. Tony McDade is the executive director of United Ministries in Greenville, and says that United Ministries internships are valuable to both the student and the organization.

“For us, [we gain] a fresh perspective [and] it increases capacity,” McDade said. “For the interns, I think [they gain] the experience of working in a vibrant nonprofit setting that is doing significant work with people in poverty. They can see how the systems work independently and then interdependently, and then [they gain] mentorship: connecting with our seasoned, professional social work staff will give them a sense of whether this is right fit for them vocationally.”

While internships for small organizations and nonprofits like United Ministries are often limited to bringing on just a handful of interns a year, larger corporations, like lighting manufacturer Hubbell Lighting, have developed entire programs and can take on entire cohorts of interns.

Garth Warner, vice president of human resources at Hubbell Lighting, says that Hubbell’s internship program was specifically designed with two focuses in mind.

“The primary intent of the program is two-fold – to develop the next generation of technical leadership at Hubbell Lighting while providing college students with meaningful work experience as they determine their career direction,” Warner said. “Our interns aren’t tasked with menial labor; they are assigned to important projects and expected to contribute in a meaningful way.”

Luckily for the interns, this is largely true for many companies these days, but especially those in the Greenville area.

“The community has been wonderful across the board in creating internships that are learning opportunities for the students. It’s not just going and doing routine work; it’s also getting involved in meetings and having a substantial project to work on,” Zeiger said.

Elliott Davis, a regional consulting, advisory, and accounting firm headquartered in Greenville, has been bringing on interns for more than a decade and is another company that has developed an entire program dedicated to developing its interns.

The company’s seven-week long ENVISION Academy program was recently ranked the number one internship program by, and campus recruiting manager Nita Albrecht says that it’s one of the reasons that the company’s internship program has been so successful.

“Our ENVISION academy is a professional development program that our interns participate in throughout their time at Elliott Davis. We’ve aligned the program with our firm’s competencies and culture,” Albrecht said, mentioning areas such as professional communication and continuing education. “It is part of why our program is ranked number one in the country. Making an impact on our community is an important part of our mission. We make sure our interns are building relationships within the community as well and giving back through community service.”

For John-Michael Williams, a summer 2017 intern at Elliott Davis, the community service component was a huge selling point.

“I have the strong opinion that you should work somewhere that shares your values, and with Elliott Davis believing in doing the right thing, serving the community you’re in, and respecting everyone around you, it felt like an environment that worked for me,” Williams said. “One of my favorite things about the internship is that one day out of the week is devoted to volunteering with the community. During the first week of the internship, we look at a list of volunteer organizations and we pick one. For one day out of every week we get to spend that day helping that organization by volunteering our time.”

Beyond that, Williams says that the hands-on work experience he’s gained is invaluable.

“Four days out of the week, we’re getting our hands-on client work with nonprofits, individuals, and companies. … Essentially I got my hands on everything that I could possibly specialize in, which I think is really unique,” Williams said.

Overall, it seems like the stereotype of an intern whose job solely revolves around making copies and getting coffee is behind us, and it’s clear that both businesses and prospective new hires benefit from the experience.

“Internships allow us not only to get new talent, but we also look to them for feedback about how to make our program stronger each year. We utilize interns to identify opportunities to drive efficiency, to integrate technology, and to offer diverse perspectives,” Albrecht said. “Those perspectives are extremely valuable to driving our culture of innovation.”