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May 14, 2015

Consultant model of internship offers students experience, plus support to emerging and small businesses

By Gretchen Koch

Editor’s note: In order for high-school students to embark upon IT careers after graduation, they need internships to gain the real-life work experience employers seek when hiring. Successful internships offer students four Ps: A project that is valued and challenging; a place in which to work; personnel who care about and supervise the student; and payment, preferably money, for the work students do.

Traditionally, companies have established internships so the four Ps take place under the same roof. In a series of blog posts, the /home">Creating IT Futures Foundation talks with companies thinking beyond the traditional internship model to create new learning opportunities for students.

This summer, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Foundation will pilot an internship program offering high-school students work experience, while also providing small business owners with IT, web and social media assistance they likely couldn’t support otherwise.

Following what’s known as the “consultant” model of internships, this pilot program will benefit some small businesses which lack the budget, staff or space — in any combination — to host a summer intern, but could use help with their websites, social media strategies and online marketing programs. Select students from Chicago Public Schools’ Early College STEM Schools who are hired as interns will benefit by gaining real-life IT work experience they can cite on their resumes.

The Creating IT Futures Foundation is helping the Chamber’s Foundation identify those students who possess the skills needed for the businesses’ assignments.

“A small business owner wears a lot of hats,” said Ann Kisting, executive director of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “He or she doesn’t have a dedicated HR person who can figure out the intern’s job description, recruit the right candidate and then oversee the intern’s work.”

Florence Hardy, manager of the Illinois Small Business Development Center at the Chamber, said that participating small businesses will receive 120 hours of free internship IT support, most of which will take shape as new websites, a social media presence or online marketing — which, in turn, will help the small businesses prosper in their respective enterprises.

In some cases, the interns will work on site at the small business locations. In others, they will work out of the Foundation’s office. Businesses are expected to submit detailed work plans in advance of the interns’ start dates, so that everyone has a clear understanding of what work is expected.

“The businesses I expect will benefit most from this pilot project are those who are really, really small, and don’t have the space for the intern, or the time to manage them,” Hardy said. “You need a good line of communication so that everyone involved knows what’s needed from each other.”

For the students, Kisting said, they emerge from the program having earned some much-needed income and having gained much-needed work experience.

“Workplace development is very relevant and an important place for the Chamber to be,” Kisting commented. “Work experience is critical for students. It makes it possible for them to secure positions that represent the next step up in their careers.”

“And there are a lot of students who cannot afford an unpaid internship; it is essential that they earn a wage,” Kisting added. “So for the Foundation to underwrite the costs, the owners to provide the assignments, and the students to provide the work and gain experience, this pilot effort represents a win-win-win.”