School Performance and Supervision
During the internship period, the Director of the Academy program must make sure that the student interns are receiving the kind of work/educational experience that was agreed upon at the outset. Therefore, a series of on-site interviews should be scheduled, to meet with both the interns and their supervisors. The Director should bring the list of competencies with them so as to make note of which competencies have already been learned and which need to still be address in subsequent weeks. Also, the Director should discuss the student’s performance with the employer supervisor in order to help direct the supervisor in achieving the goals of a successful internship. The Director should make sure that the on-site experience of the intern contains a varied work experience such that the student gains a broad view of opportunities within the industry. The Director should also make sure that there is a strong link between the school curriculum and the work-based learning.
A successful internship experience for the student requires close collaboration among stakeholders. Certainly, the time and effort invested in preparing students during the year prior to the internship will be of critical importance. First and foremost, the director and school must educate prospective interns not only in workplace readiness skills, but they must create awareness that the internship is a learning experience, not simply a job. Whereas it is true that interns are required to perform job functions, their workplace activities should be designed to meet specific educational goals mutually agreed upon by the student and employer. The best time to do this is at the very outset of the internship, when intern and supervisor sit down together for the first time. During the weeks prior to this first meeting, the director should have worked with students to help them identify and clarify specific learning goals. These goals may be modified by the specific assignment, but more often than not they will transcend them. For example, every intern will want to “know what it’s like to work in industry” and that’s fine. Goals that go beyond this generic one may include improvement in communication skills, participation in team-based projects, opportunities to interact with customers or clients, enhancement of software skills (Excel, Access, PowerPoint, among others), challenging data entry work, exposure to the international side of the business, and so on. When students are able to speak intelligently about their expectations for the internship, the supervisor can then structure the intern’s activities to help achieve specific goals. The director and school are the ones who make sure this occurs as an outcome of extended orientation in the pre-internship period.
It is strongly recommended that the director conduct a pre-internship orientation for students at the end of the school year immediately before the start of work. At this orientation, the director will communicate orally and in writing the program’s general performance expectations, discuss some of the do’s and don’ts of successful internships, provide students with contact information for them to reach Academy staff, and distribute print materials relating to internship requirements. An important document to distribute, especially in large programs, is an “Internship Data Form,” which will contain space for the student’s personal data (a good chance here to update unreported changes of e-mail, home address and phone number) and lines for the student’s supervisor’s name, work location, and contact data. Students should be told to complete this form the first or second day on the job and fax it to the Academy office. This will save the director much difficulty once school ends and the internship begins
Supervision of the student during the internship itself is the immediate responsibility of the employer. Firms that employ many NAF interns often designate a point person to do this, usually from the Human Resources side. This individual deals with the interns directly or via the managers in whose departments the students are employed. The director will need to work closely with the firm’s liaison. In districts where the NAF director is on a 12-month calendar, collaboration between the firm and the program is more easily achieved than in places where the director works only ten months. Regardless of the length of the school year for the program leadership, it is essential that there is consistent involvement in the supervision process by responsible Academy personnel. And even before the start of the internship it would be very useful to have the director meet face to face with company personnel who will be the interns’ actual boss.
There are a number of options available for all NAF programs. Some school districts award academic credit to student interns. A happy outcome of this incentive is that district moneys may be made available to pay for Academy staff, usually via the standard summer school program. In multi-site programs where most of the internships are assigned during July and August, the availability of anywhere from one to five district-funded Academy teachers and coordinators makes possible mentoring and active visits to the workplace. These visits may comprise one of the criteria for the awarding of grades to the students. Students could be interviewed one on one or in small groups several times during the internship. Such visits allow the Academy to nip problems in the bud, assess the impact of the internship on the student, make midcourse corrections, or just validate for the interns the notion that the Academy is interested in their performance and cares about them. Depending on budget, size of the NAF program, and internship structure, some directors may also be able to convene weekly school-based meetings of all the Academy’s interns. If academic credit is not possible, funds for extra-duty pay may be made available via a number of sources, including VATEA grants, district “other” funds, and Advisory Board support.
Whether or not academic credit is granted, the Academy may require students to complete several projects in order to meet Academy standards for a NAF certificate at graduation. Among the options available are to have interns complete a daily reflective log or journal of activities, interview supervisors or fellow employees, research the company’s website and other business sources, and write a comprehensive analysis of their experience at the end of the internship.
Internship supervisors need to be able to contact responsible Academy personnel when problems occur. There may be an attitude problem or it may be a lateness issue or an unwillingness to correct inappropriate dress or an inability to perform specific tasks. Whatever the problem, the workplace liaison needs to be able to communicate the facts to the director and secure necessary feedback and advice on how to proceed. From the school’s point of view, it must be recognized that the company retains the absolute right to terminate employees, including interns, who fail to meet minimal performance standards. NAF’s experience with private sector liaisons is that companies will bend over backwards to give students a second chance. Egregious violations, however, such as falsification of time sheets, theft, and insubordination, constitute grounds for immediate dismissal.
Problems also occur from the students’ perspective, usually at the start of the internship. These are most likely to arise when there has been no communication between the intern and direct supervisor or when students are rotated among many departments. Typical issues include the intern’s belief that the work is too easy or boring, that there is nothing to do, that the supervisor knows little about the NAF program, that he or she would rather be assigned elsewhere. Students will sometimes make their feelings known to their supervisor or to the company intern liaison. On occasion, they may bypass this channel and contact the director directly. From the director’s point of view, the best advice to the intern is to allow some time for the problem to resolve itself. Both supervisors and interns often require a break-in period when they get to know each other. After allowing a reasonable length of time, the director should remind the intern to speak to company personnel about the possibility of a change of assignment if that becomes the only option. In some cases it may not be feasible to affect a placement change and the director needs to act as a mediator in seeking a resolution of the problem.
Evaluation is an essential component of the internship experience. From the director’s point of view, the evaluation process provides a vehicle for assessing not only student performance but for judging the quality of the internship at a particular site. It is incumbent on the Academy director to develop a confidential evaluation form to be completed by the workplace supervisor at the conclusion of the internship. Categories may include attendance, punctuality, quality and quantity of work, initiative, cooperation, attitude, knowledge, and interest. The most useful evaluations contain anecdotal remarks in support of specific ratings. To encourage timely submission of summer internship evaluations, many directors ask those to be sent to the Academy before the opening of school. Coupled with the written projects turned in by the interns and measured against the actual observations of Academy staff in the field, the confidential appraisals prepared by the workplace supervisors provide the wherewithal for a fairly accurate picture of student performance.