For some people, when it comes to getting a foot in the door for an employment opportunity, it really is all about who you know. For others, it takes a bit of old-fashioned knocking on doors until someone says “Yes.” In my case, like that of many others, it was someone’s agreement to give me a shot as an intern that served as a defining moment in my career development.
Internships provide an ideal opportunity to put classroom learning into action in a supervised, work-based setting. Typically, participating in an internship is one of few times when questions are appreciated and a great deal of learning is expected. Completing an internship can position one job applicant above another in the eyes of an employer. In fact, some employers will share that they’ve chosen an applicant who had an internship over a person with a higher G.P.A. simply because the intern has demonstrated an ability to successfully adapt to and progress in a work environment.
Many young people with and without disabilities don’t participate in internship opportunities even though research indicates they can lead to permanent employment, whether at the high school or college level.
Unfortunately, research also indicates many students with disabilities have limited access to high quality career development activities and work experiences. Studies show that meaningful work experiences, such as internships, summer and afterschool jobs, and community service work, during the high school years significantly increase employment rates among students with disabilities later in life. To put it plainly, internships and other work experiences are critical to successful transition to adulthood!
In general, the benefits of an internship for interns with or without disabilities are countless. They can include:
- Figuring out the type of career one does (or does not) want to pursue
- Learning and honing a variety of skills (i.e. computer literacy, punctuality, professional behavior)
- Gaining self-confidence
- Learning about accommodation needs and connecting with professionals with disabilities
- Learning to travel independently
- Establishing relationships that may lead to other internships or employment
- Obtaining credit towards graduation requirements
In its most recent publication, Internships: the On-Ramp to Employment, A Guide for Students with Disabilities to Getting and Making the Most of an Internship, the National Consortium on Leadership and Disability for Youth (NCLD/Y) leads young people through the process of researching, applying for, participating in, and even evaluating an internship. What makes this guide unique is its emphasis on providing young people, including those with disabilities, with the tools they need to maintain a competitive advantage over their peers. This includes:
- Career exploration activities to help youth think through the type of internship they’d like to complete
- Resume and interviewing tips and tricks
- Ideas for funding an internship
- Methods for surviving the first week as an intern and creating a work plan
- Networking strategies
In addition, it provides activities and insights specific to interns with disabilities. These include considering transportation and housing options, disclosing a disability to a potential supervisor/employer, and finding and managing a personal care attendant.
Internships, along with job shadowing and mentoring programs, are ideal ways to ensure that young people are ready to enter the workplace. They should be considered a sound future investment, as they have the potential to open doors to a world of opportunities.
To learn more about specific internship programs for youth with disabilities, check out the NCLD/Y website.
For youth service professionals and program administrators interested in developing and implementing internship opportunities and other career preparation and work-based learning experiences, see Guideposts for Success: Career Preparation & Work-Based Learning Experiences.
By Andraéa LaVant, Youth Development Specialist at the National Collaborative on Workforce & Disability for Youth, Institute for Educational Leadership Center for Workforce Development.