Every year in New York City, thousands of young adults take important steps toward career success through internship experiences with businesses of all sizes in a wide range of industries. For interns, these opportunities help them add skills, make professional contacts, explore potential career options and better understand the world of work. Employers benefit as well, most immediately by adding low-cost temporary capacity, but also by virtue of interns’ creativity, energy, and comfort with technology. Over the longer term, companies that host interns can leverage the experience to bring in rising talent, diversify their workforce and effectively engage new markets.

Unfortunately not every internship match is a success. All too often, companies struggle to recruit, utilize, manage and evaluate the young talent in their midst. For this reason, in 2016 the NYC Center for Youth Employment reached out to dozens of companies in New York City and beyond that have created highly effective internship models. Through intensive conversations, we came to understand their practices for recruitment, project planning, support and troubleshooting—every step along the way to a high quality internship experience. The Employer Best Practices Playbook captures these tools and strategies, including anecdotes and tools for companies’ use.

CYE team members are available to discuss the Playbook and work with your company to put its findings into effect. For more information, please contact us.

Letter from Mayor Bill de Blasio
Letter from Gabrielle Fialkoff, Director, Mayor’s Office of Strategic Partnerships

Introduction

At first, it was a challenge to get the full-time staff at the agency to understand the importance of working with high school students or college freshmen, because they were used to working with older college students. But when they started to manage the Ladders for Leaders interns day-to-day, they were usually blown away by the capabilities of these young people.”
Tasha Gilroy, Y&R

The benefits of internship and employment opportunities for youth and young adults are easy to grasp. They offer critical pathways to helping young people obtain early work experience and develop skills that are necessary for future employment and long-term economic advancement. These experiences also allow young people to explore career options, learn about work culture, build professional networks, and develop skills, while earning a paycheck or academic credit.

Less well understood is what employers get out of it—though that’s beginning to change, as more employers come forward to make a strong case for the value of hiring young workers for both the short- and long-term.1 Youth and young adults bring energy, creativity and a high comfort level with emerging technologies into almost any workplace. Additionally, youth can diversify a company’s workforce and energize existing staff to act as formal and informal mentors. Employers that consistently harness the skills and enthusiasm of their younger workers aren’t just delivering an experience of great value for those young adults—they’re seizing a competitive advantage for themselves.

The NYC Center for Youth Employment (CYE) has developed this Employer Best Practices Playbook to collect and codify the strategies and practices of these employers. The Playbook helps guide and support organizations new to hiring or hosting youth and young adults through every step of the process, from interviewing and hiring interns and young workers to project planning, supervision and evaluation. It provides a viable set of strategies to support high quality work experiences, useful for employers of all sizes and in virtually every industry represented in New York City.

While test-driving potential career paths, interns can add value by carrying out projects focused on administrative or clerical responsibilities and real-world problem-solving in advertising, tech support, finance, and customer service. Some interns or short-term hires might be simply looking for an interesting summer experience that provides some spending money; others come to their positions hoping to convert the opportunity of an internship into a longer-term employment relationship. Employers have the same range of motivations—and the Playbook is designed to help ensure a positive experience regardless of what both parties want to achieve.

Over the past six months, CYE interviewed dozens of employers and convened stakeholders who host high school and college-age interns, from both publicly supported programs such as Ladders for Leaders, the Young Adult Internship Program and Summer Youth Employment Program, and independent internal company programs. We talked with start-ups, large corporations, small businesses, and community-based organizations, working in industry sectors including financial services, information technology, advertising, retail, nonprofit, telecommunications, and law.

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Responses varied by size and sector on questions like how many interns an organization could comfortably host, whether interns worked in one department or several, and the nature of their work tasks and supervision. But on many points, those interviewed were strikingly consistent. They praised the high energy and enthusiasm interns typically bring to the workplace. Many cited the important role of partner organizations in helping match them with intern talent. And almost all noted the importance of providing orientation, preparation and training, ongoing supervision, mentoring and support.

What employers seek to get out of the internship can inform the decisions that follow about program structure, level of investment, approach to recruitment, and how best to manage and provide support.

When thinking about engaging youth and young adults in internship or other work experiences, the first question is what you hope to gain. The employers we spoke with highlighted the three primary motivations illustrated below.

This Playbook presents tools and resources to create a productive work experience for young people and employers. The following sections—on interviewing and hiring, onboarding and orientation, project planning, supervision, and evaluation—highlight the takeaways for organizations new to this work, and include sample tools to use. Each features real world insights and anecdotes from the employers we spoke with.

Three Primary Motivations

1. Pipeline and Adding New Skills

  • Employers are looking to ensure a steady flow of young talent to keep their organizations thriving as large numbers of Baby Boomers approach retirement age
  • As focus on succession strategies varies from senior management to technical staff, different internship and hiring programs can meet those needs
  • Technology change can be another motivation to bring in a younger cohort of workers

2. Strengthening Organizational Culture

  • Some staff are motivated by working with enthusiastic younger colleagues
  • More experienced workers appreciate the chance to pass along knowledge
  • Interns can give younger full-time workers their first supervisory experience

3. Giving Young People a Chance

  • Many current professionals started as interns and want to pass along the opportunity
  • Creating internships or hiring youth can show commitment to a community
  • Younger workers also can add a helpful perspective in targeting new markets and understanding customers