Before NECA 2023 came to an end in the city of Philadelphia, attendees had a final opportunity to attend seminars right on the show floor. In the leadership booth, Angie Hart of Rosendin Electric and Matt Dole of Lighthouse Electric discussed best practices for internships in a presentation moderated by Joelle Salerno of the Western Pennsylvania NECA chapter.
The presenters offered some valuable insights into facilitating a successful internship program that was relevant for any electrical contractors interested in offering internship programs, no matter their level of experience.
Why a good program matters
The presentation began with a discussion about why it’s important to have a good internship program. For Hart, she said contractors should think about internship programs as a billboard for their company. It’s important to give your interns a valuable experience so that, when they return to college or talk about their internship, your company has a good reputation. This will help with getting more interns in the future by ensuring positive word-of-mouth communication.
In addition, both Hart and Dole discussed how important it is to have a structured program for an internship in order to make the experience valuable for the intern and the company.
How to recruit interns
The presenters discussed where they’ve had success at finding interns. Hart said her company has had success at college fairs, specifically when they bring employees who are alumni of the university or who are younger. She says it’s important to represent your company well but to also bring people who are able to relate to potential applicants.
At his company, Dole said they search in traditional places like job fairs and colleges, but they also extend their search to less traditional locations such as tailgates at football games. He said it’s important to keep an open mind on where potential interns can come from. By doing so, contractors may be able to find qualified applicants in unexpected places.
In addition to finding good locations, Salerno said it’s important for contractors to begin their search early. Part of the issue for electrical contractors is that they are competing with general construction companies for interns, and the universities typically send students in that direction. Electrical contractors need to focus on their recruitment efforts and Salerno recommends beginning your search as early as a year in advance. Waiting on recruitment can make it difficult to find qualified interns because the other general contractors have already begun recruitment.
How to find good mentors
Both presenters stressed how important it is to find qualified and enthusiastic people in your company to serve as mentors for interns. When asked by an audience member if their companies provided incentives to employees to take an intern on, both said they did not.
Dole looks for mentors in his company who want an opportunity to grow themselves. He looks for people who like to teach and who are interested in fostering the next generation. Hart agreed and added that she believed a mentor should be someone who genuinely wants the role. You don’t want to pair interns with employees who view interns as simply extra labor. You want an intern to have a good experience, to learn, and who can grow and you want an enthusiastic mentor who is ready for the responsibility and what the mentorship will entail.
What matters to interns
The panel discussed the six benefits that students are most interested in when pursuing an internship. Those interests are:
- Challenging work scope and well-defined internship projects
- An engaging company culture
- Opportunities to network with executives and industry leaders
- Professional development training and education
- Monetary benefits (salary, travel expenses, etc.)
- Additional perks such as corporate events, travel and more
Tips for starting out
Finally, the presenters ended with what they wished they knew starting out and what “landmines” to avoid. Dole said that he wished he checked in with interns more often when he began internship programs. It’s important to make sure the intern is fulfilled in the role and having a good experience. Checking in can also identify when an intern may need to be switched to another part of the company to find what interests them most and best fits their skills. He said you don’t want to view an intern as just another item on your list to check off, and that it should be an engaged experience for all parties.
Hart said anyone starting an internship program should make sure to outline the plan of the internship and identify goals for the intern and the company. Doing this makes sure that the internship is a valuable experience for both the intern and your company.
Finally, for any electrical contractor looking for resources about how to create a successful internship program, the presenters directed attendees to the ELECTRI Internship Best Practices Toolkit.