Internships in local communities can ease the brain drain
R. Bruce Anderson
We are on the precipice, economists say, of one of the greatest periods of expansion in American finance and business since the 1950s.
This is especially true for central Florida. With the boom comes a demand for educated workers and future leaders – and public service professionals to guide the process. Municipal government is under cross-pressure: the working population is aging, many on the verge of retirement; management leadership is strong, but they will not be with us forever.
Fortunately, we have a source of good people coming. There are four excellent colleges and universities here producing trained people, many of whom are willing to stay. The problem, as always, is keeping them here.
“Hands-on training”, or experience, is key. This is especially true in the public service – if they are competing for a job that requires training in administration and organization, the best training is on the job.
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Internships are the answer.
The notion of combining college education with practical training is hardly new – but has grown exponentially in recent years, along with other core principles of ‘experiential learning’. The internship works, as opposed to “observation” – which is often of little practical use. Getting Your Hands Dirty Often times doing the lowest assignments in an area that interests you – applying what you’ve learned in class to the world as it is.
Companies got into the practice early on – and they love doing internships because they implement “conversion,” a term for people who come in as interns and stay as workers and managers. In my own role, I have run numerous political campaigns with students interested in the process, from both parties (and neither). The Local Bar Association has been extremely helpful in securing pre-law internships in local businesses, from large corporations to simple shingle operations.
Students start at the bottom – making coffee, sorting files, answering phones, copying. They don’t know anything (that’s why they’re there), so they usually don’t get paid directly until they do. But they have an unprecedented opportunity to see if they are really interested.
Government internships are generally fairly easy to obtain at the national level. The State Department, the US Congress, and the White House have all been served by students from my home institution.
But the local government? There are real positives. The county transportation service was truly exceptional and made a real art of converting and retaining local college kids, hiring them into the ranks. The county itself takes a few. But the city administration seems categorically negative about the idea of interns, and this is where some of the best experiences could be generated.
I am confused. As Florida grows, solid city planning, from traffic to land development, can make all the difference. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part city departments oppose any type of year-round internship program and are reluctant to calls for it to be implemented.
One of our city commissioners recently said that “if we could create a broader approach within city hall, I think we would see an increase in students pursuing careers in public service which would not only provide them with a career path, but at the same time diverting the tsunami of money we are witnessing as the baby boomers retire from the workforce. As we know, education is the backbone of our community’s economy. Through internships, we train new professionals while retaining talent locally. Internships and talent retention are a game changer in a community like ours. “
The transition could be seamless.
We need young blood in the service of the city, which will learn from experienced hands already on the bridge. Government departments are no different from business in this way: give students a chance and they could stay and serve.
R. Bruce Anderson is the Dr. Sarah D. and L. Kirk McKay, Jr. Chair in American History, Government and Citizenship and Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Florida Southern College. He is also a columnist for The Ledger and political consultant and on-air commentator for WLKF Radio.