Beware of Golden Opportunities

There are help wanted signs everywhere, across multiple industries. Employers are desperate for staff. They’re offering higher wages, more benefits and even signing bonuses, in some cases even offering to pay people just for completing an application.

For someone who places students into internships, this sounds like a golden age, right? Well, not so fast.

Employers who are in dire need of staff may not actually be the best places for interns to be. Those employers will face incredible pressure to have productive, even marginally-productive staff in critical positions, and that’s really not where you want a student to be.

An internship is first and foremost a learning opportunity. It should be structured in such a way that students will get exposure to a relevant industry and occupation, with an experienced supervisor taking the time to teach and work with them as part of their exploration of, and induction into, the field. Yes, students should have opportunities to be productive, and if paid should actually be earning that pay. But to throw them into work without training, and without a seasoned hand to guide them, does a real disservice to all parties involved.

So, by all means talk with employers who are actively hiring staff. But be clear that you are not a temp agency, and your students are not just employees. For an internship to serve your students, there must be equal parts earning and learning, with managers and supervisors who have the capacity and ability to work with them in a hands-on capacity.


Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of the National Center for College and Career (NC3T) ( NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance, and tools. These strategies help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.