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May 4, 2015

Shared managed model of internship offers employers flexibility

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 Creating IT Futures Foundation talks with companies thinking beyond the traditional internship model to create new learning opportunities for students.

In New York City and Chicago, IBM offers internships that follow the shared managed model, wherein part of the experience is handled virtually in cooperation with the employer’s remote offices.

IBM has worked for four years with the New York City Department of Education and the City University of New York to develop P-TECH, the first school in the nation to connect high school, college and the world of work through college and industry partnerships. With its unique grades 9 through 14 model, P-TECH matriculates 100 percent of its students with associate’s degrees within six years, allowing them to enter the workforce immediately upon graduation. The Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy in Chicago follows a similar curriculum model, and IBM has worked with that school for three years.

At P-TECH and Sarah E. Goode, when students complete their third year of the program, IBM offers internships to those students pursuing associate’s degrees in applied science, which are strategically and purposefully linked to entry-level jobs within IBM. This summer, 13 students in Chicago are eligible for internships, and 50 students in New York City are eligible for internships.

Under IBM’s shared managed model, the interns work in a local IBM office, but in some cases, the IBM manager supervising their projects does so virtually, not on site. The interns work with their managers and specific projects using phone, email and video conferencing. While on-site, they have access to a teacher from their school who helps them with essential professional and technical skills.

“So on some days, they may see their manager and on other days, they may work independently,” said Charlotte Johnson, IBM’s education program manager at the Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy in Chicago. “The teacher provides supervision in the workplace in case there’s a question.”

IBM has identified several best practices to making the shared managed internship model work, Johnson said. They include:

  1. Identify one IBM employee to be responsible for the infrastructure tools an intern needs to begin work, such as a desk, an ID badge and a computer. 

    “By taking away some of the cumbersome aspects of bringing an intern on board — such as getting an ID badge — we free up managers to focus on the actual work product,” she said. 

  2. Encourage managers to think about their “wish list” projects early in the school calendar year — projects they have always wanted to do but haven’t necessarily had the manpower to complete. With enough organization and structure, Johnson said, such projects can be turned over to an intern. 

    “We explain to them that we have amazing interns with such-and-such technical skills,” she said. “It is not as if they are ready to go — the students definitely need mentoring —but they are enthusiastic and talented and are prepared to work hard with some structure and direction. It’s an inexpensive way to complete a project that’s been nagging at you.” 

  3. Make available on-site as a familiar point of contact a teacher who has worked with the students.

    “Ideally, not only does the teacher have IT technical experience, but he or she has worked for corporations and can provide some direction as far as workplace skills go,” Johnson said. “The teacher is not involved in the intern’s project, but can serve as a resource if the student has a technical or professional question.” 

  4. Give interns meaningful projects, not just “busy work.” 

    “We really want them to have a valuable experience and feel like they have a legitimate work product at the end to show for it,” Johnson said. 

  5. Have a key executive champion the overall cause of the program. In IBM’s case, it is Ginni Rometty, chairman, president and CEO of IBM. 

    “Having the executive championship really helps, especially when we are reaching out to executives and managers and encouraging them to consider what could be made into an internship project,” Johnson said. 
Also, the executive championship helps remove institutional barriers. For example, in IBM’s case, the company used to not consider job candidates who did not have bachelor’s degrees. That has changed and the company now accepts associate’s degrees for some positions.

Johnson said IBM’s experience with the shared managed model of internship has been beneficial — both for the students involved and the company as a whole.

“We’ve had some managers tell us that their high-school interns were more ready to work than college students,” Johnson said. “Their eagerness and readiness just shown through, and they didn’t take the experience for granted.”

Johnson rarely has to persuade her fellow IBM employees about the merits of internships — but when she does, she reminds them of a simple truth: Successful IBM internships often lead to successful IBM careers.

“The long-term incentive is that you’re building a pipeline for your company,” she said. “And at the end of the internship, these students can see themselves in the IT workforce. Your workforce.”