3 Steps for Growing Future Leaders with a Job Shadowing or Internship Program

Do you want to grow tomorrow’s talent today? Some of the best companies know the value of an internship program to their talent management strategy. And current research shows that 40% of interns return to the organization they interned with for full-time employment   If you’re a college student, participating in an internship(s) is one of the best methods for ensuring job offers come your way before you graduate.   In fact, choosing a college based on their relationships with top employers and their established, quality internship programs should be a key factor in vetting a college.

If your organization is considering how to best maintain a talent pipeline, establishing a job shadowing and internship or Co-Op program is a great way to groom and vet talent.  If you’re a university career center professional, establishing relationships with employers, launching successful internship programs is a critical factor in your success.  Starting small and growing a program may be the best route instead of trying to do everything at once.

Step 1:  If you are an organization, start a job shadowing program through a simple bring your kid(s) to work day once or twice a year.  This can be as simple as having announcing to your staff the day that this will occur and encouraging them to bring their kid(s) to work to observe what they do all day.

If you want to make the program more robust, consider surveying the students about what they want to be when they grow up and working to match the students interests with people in those roles instead having them simply shadow mom or dad.   Better yet, provide career assessments to students and use that to help match students to talent in your organization.

Step 2:  Form a partnership business and school partnership to establish a job shadowing day for high school students and an internship or Co-Op program for college students.   Start with one at a time. Work to understand goals of each entity and then design and establish the program meet mutual goals.

Step 3: This step really goes hand-in-hand with Step 2, but establishing a structured program that best fits the needs of both parties is important.  The structure needs to involve requirements to be a part of the program, application procedures, a calendar for the program and individuals within your company that agree to mentor an intern. Some things to consider when you structure a program are:

  • Model your program after some of the best out there
  • Focus on critical skill development areas where your organization is lacking or will be lacking in talent.  Worried about engineering, computer science or nursing positions, for example, then partner with those departments for your program.  It does not have to be a program that is open to all.  If you’re a college professional, you probably want to establish internships in the “fuzzier” program majors like the liberal arts.  Placement for these majors is more difficult, so establishing relationships with employers who want to take students from these majors is wise.
  • Provide training to those that are acting as mentors to students and allow them time to focus on development of that intern, which may mean removing some responsibilities from them in order to do so.
  • Focus on soft skill development through teambuilding, communication and problem solving activities and assignments.
  • Focus on exposure to a variety of people and experiences throughout the program, including fellow interns.
  • Focus on promoting the company as an employer of choice through exposing interns to the benefits of working with your company.  This may involve education about what “benefits” really are beyond what is traditionally focused on like salary and healthcare.
  • Design a way for high performers to get job offers before their internship experience is over- don’t loose them.   College professionals should help employers structure this, which will help with first destination rates for the school.
  • For college professionals, be careful about the partnerships you create around the issue of paid vs. non-paid internships.   Based on the current legal environment, we recommend you partner only with those who offer paid opportunities given that the definition of a non-paid intern is established, but gray at best.


Mary Ila Ward