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Bridging the Employability (skills) Gap Before, During and After an Internship

Written by Angela Finding

The Fifth Annual Cleveland Internship Summit was February 27, 2020 at Corporate College East attended by more than 200 business, community, and education representatives. Throughout the year, we will be bringing you highlights covered during the event. Today’s recap focuses on how employers are taking an active role in developing their early talent and helping them more successfully transition into the workplace.

Employers who are building their early talent pipelines often think about the employability or readiness of their candidates. Employability is defined as, “a set of achievements, understandings and personal attributes that make an individual more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations.” (Yorke and Knight) The skills one has directly impacts their employability. Additionally, for those in the hiring space, skills gaps are also an important factor to address in talent development. A skills gap is the difference between the skills a candidate has and the skills the employer seeks.

At the Cleveland Internship Summit, the panelists discussed how their companies are taking an active role in helping their interns and entry level employees successfully transition into the workforce. The speakers were Grace Heffernan, Thomas P. Miller and Associates (moderator); Brittany Cirino, Swagelok; and Erin Henning, Eaton.

When asked what employability means to them for interns and entry level talent, they described the following ideal candidate as someone who has:

  • successfully navigated the collegiate landscape,
  • participated in extracurricular activities,
  • developed specialty or technical skills sets,
  • demonstrated ability to navigate core competitions,
  • an ability to be coached,
  • and an ability to receive and act on feedback.

So how does this relate to their internship programs? Both Swagelok and Eaton have robust internship programs that are a pipeline for attracting and retaining talent. Their programs have high retention rates of 80% and 75% respectively. Swagelok and Eaton have internship programs that provide real value for the companies in terms of work product, but they also focus heavily on developing and growing their interns’ skills that include:

  • soft or essential skills,
  • navigating the corporate landscape and networking,
  • agility,
  • collaboration,
  • and accountability.

The key theme for both companies is that learning does not stop even beyond the internship program. Continued development and learning is part of their cultures. Employees have several opportunities to be part of leadership and other talent development programs. When asked why this is successful, both panelists stressed the importance of support and sponsorship by senior management. They communicated that it is a lot of work and “takes a village” to build successful internship and development programs. In order for these programs to be successful, they must align with company leadership’s vision.

Their advice to other companies looking to start or grow an internship program or those looking to create more learning and development opportunities is:

  • Get support from leadership
  • Start small
  • Spend a lot of time researching and benchmarking
  • Use available resources like NACE and GCP Internship Central
  • And finally, take your time!

Want to know more about internship best practices? Visit the Greater Cleveland Partnership’s Internship Central hub to learn more about how to build a best-in-class internship program at your business.

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