The Strategic Use of College Internships The Strategic Use of College Internships

Remarks at Workshop on Internships, Boston, MA Remarks at Workshop on Internships, Boston, MA

April 16, 2009

Good morning, and welcome to the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

I’m Paul Connolly, chief operating officer of the Bank.  On behalf of my Bank colleagues, and our friends at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, I want to thank you for being with us today for this Workshop on Internships. 

We believe you will find today’s Workshop to be both interesting and valuable, in large measure because of the terrific panelists, and breakout session leaders, who bring so much to the program.  My thanks to all of them.

The Workshop will be valuable as well because of you.  We have a rich cross-section of employers and academic institutions represented in the room.  Our program provides for lots of discussion, and for networking.  Please take advantage of these opportunities for mutual learning.

Our Workshop this morning represents follow-through on two important research reports issued in the fall of 2008.  The Boston Fed issued one, and the Chamber of Commerce, working with Mercer, issued the other.  Both are available here this morning if you have not already read them.

The two studies together comprise a call to action, for Greater Boston and the broader New England region.

Their message is that although the region’s skilled, educated labor force has been an engine of economic growth in the past, New England’s advantage is being eroded.

The research conducted by my colleague Alicia Sasser at the Boston Fed shows that the supply of recent college graduates is growing more slowly in New England than in the rest of the nation, partly because new graduates go elsewhere to get jobs.

Moreover, the study conducted by Mercer for the Chamber finds that Greater Boston is not growing its skilled workforce fast enough to meet employers’ needs, and that gaps already exist in both professional and technical occupations.

To address these issues comprehensively will take multiple approaches, some of them longer-term in nature.

One promising short-term strategy for increasing the supply of skilled, educated  workers in New England is to expand the use of internships, to retain a higher percentage of college students graduating from our colleges and universities.

Our higher education institutions attract local young people, and students from all over the country, and excel at producing highly skilled college graduates.

Surveys consistently reveal that recent college grads who leave New England do so primarily for job-related reasons, often without being fully aware of local job opportunities.

Expanding the use of internships would help college students to learn more about local opportunities, and to form networks and connections in the region.

During the past few months, the Chamber and the Fed have convened a small group of business leaders, and senior people from a few universities, to develop a plan for expanding and strengthening internships in Greater Boston.

The group includes PriceWaterhouse Coopers, Citizens Bank, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Genzyme, Mercer, Bentley, Northeastern, and Boston University.  And we’ll be reaching out more broadly as we go.

We agreed to focus on four initiatives in the near term. Our first initiative is this Workshop. In addition, we want to explore the possibility of some form of an online clearinghouse, to make internship opportunities more visible in ways that might help students, colleges, and employers.

Whenever we mention it, we find that there are a lot of ideas about how this might be done.  We look forward to learning more, and your assistance is welcome.

A third initiative will be to add value to this year’s internships.  We will look to do a few things this summer that might help to give college interns some broader knowledge about Boston and the region, and increase their feeling of belonging here, and wanting to stay here after graduation.

For example, we might invite employers with interns to ask the interns to come here to the Bank for an afternoon, to hear about the economy, and the roles of the Federal Reserve Bank.  That might be of some interest this year.

Our fourth near-term initiative will be outreach.  We know there are numerous organizations in the region, both public and private, engaged in similar or related activities.  We want to connect with them, let them see what we are doing, learn about their plans, and see where we might be able to help each other.  Here also, your help is welcome.

Some of the employers in this room have highly successful internship programs that already are working well as channels to full-time employment for the talented people they need.  We can learn from you, and   you may pick up some ideas today about how to be even more successful.

The majority of employers may be more like the Boston Fed.  We have college interns every year; we attract great young people; they do good work during the summer; and occasionally interns become employees after graduation.

However, we want to use our internships more strategically.  We want to use more of them as low-cost, low-risk opportunities to look a year or two ahead, think about our expected employment needs, and hire interns who might be matches for those future needs.

The Bank, and the Chamber, believe individual employers and the broader community will benefit if more employers move toward this strategic use of internships. 

We have several colleges and universities in the room this morning.  Some have broad and deep relationships with employers that are national models.  Others are looking to develop or grow such relationships.  We anticipate that you will learn from this Workshop, and from each other, and will make new contacts with employers as well as peers.

Of course we all realize that we are facing strong headwinds this year when it comes to internships and employment.

Business conditions are tough.  Most companies are making cut-backs, may not be focused on future employment needs, and may not be planning to do as much with college interns this year as they otherwise might.

Just two points to consider.  First, the labor supply issues we face in Greater Boston and New England are long-term issues.  When economic conditions improve, as they will, the problem still will be with us, and the fight for talented recent graduates with needed skills will pick up again.  Internships are not difficult or costly, and when used strategically can position us better for tomorrow.

Second, one really inexpensive option is unpaid internships that provide academic credit for the students.  This approach can be particularly attractive during the academic year, say in the fall semester or the spring semester.  We have people on the program and in the audience who can explain how to work with colleges and students to set up such internships.  It could be another way to get to a win-win for everyone.

This Workshop is happening because Eric Rosengren, the President of the Bank, and Paul Guzzi, President and CEO of the Chamber, wanted follow-through on last fall’s studies.  They wanted to put research into action.  They wanted to bring people together to work on initiatives that would make a difference.  With their leadership, and your help, we’re doing it.  Thank you.   

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