How to Create a Successful Internship Program

Tips to Benefit Both Interns and Employers
BY MARY ELLEN BRENNAN AND FRANKY SPANGLER
In the occupational and environmental health and safety sector, many companies have found that internships are a win-win proposition for both themselves and their interns. The primary benefit of internships for employers is that they build a steady stream of well-prepared candidates for OEHS positions. During the internship program, employers have a chance to fully vet candidates and, consequently, improve the quality of hires. Many OEHS employers train students in their processes and methods, thereby decreasing onboarding time in the future. During the program, employers gain eager and energetic professionals who bring new concepts, thoughts, and ideas to the OEHS department. More altruistically, internships foster a new generation of OEHS professionals, thereby helping promote and sustain the profession.

The benefits for OEHS interns are many. First and foremost, the internship gives them a chance to apply skills and knowledge in a practical manner. Most students have not had the opportunity to gain hands-on experience. In an internship program, students don their work clothes and personal protective equipment to work in the field while completing their academic projects. Students who can work with employees on air monitoring, enter data into a database, give a presentation, and express themselves in front of managers will be better prepared for future employment than those who did not have such experiences. Not only do the interns advance their ability to apply skills, but, through practical experience, they also have the chance to determine if OEHS is the best career choice for them.  AIHA’s research on the preparedness of recent graduates for entry-level OEHS positions supports the need for internships in the profession. Hiring managers surveyed observed that recent graduates are not well prepared to apply knowledge in a practical way. Professors surveyed also noted the need for practical experience, stating that once the basic knowledge has been learned, the application of knowledge is best provided by on-the-job training.  While many companies have well-established internship programs, others may see the benefit of creating an internship program and wonder how to do so. Here are a few tips from OEHS employers about how to create a successful internship program. 
MARY ELLEN BRENNAN, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is founder of MEBrennan Consulting. She can be reached via email. FRANKY SPANGLER, PHR, SHRM-SCP, is AIHA’s director of Human Resources. She can be reached via email.

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