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Internships an invaluable experience for students, businesses alike

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Each day at Centegra Hospital – McHenry is a new adventure for Carolyn Larson – and that’s just the way she likes it.

The Northern Illinois University senior is an intern in the nursing administration office at the hospital, her final step in earning a bachelor’s degree this spring in public health with an emphasis on health administration.

The Richmond resident and Prairie Ridge High School graduate is one of a growing number of students who intern, according to two recent studies by the National Association of Colleges and Employees. The ventures give graduates a leg up when finding employment and keeping a job.

Larson will complete 360 hours of unpaid training as an intern thanks to a partnership between Centegra Health System and DeKalb-based NIU.

Her daily tasks range from shadowing seasoned employees to working on spreadsheets, and many things in between.

“I never had any experience in the hospital setting, so this is really opening my eyes to what my degree will allow me to do,” said Larson, 22. “By the time I am done here, I will know exactly what I want to do.”

About 63 percent of paid interns received at least one job offer after graduation, according to the 2012 Internship and Co-op Survey and Student Survey Class of 2012.

Only 36 percent of those without internship experience received offers.

The number of interns is expected to grow by 8.5 percent next year, data show. About 55 percent of students in the Class of 2012 had internship experience.

McHenry County College offers several internships through its workforce development program.

That includes grant money through the Illinois Cooperative Work Study Program, which allows students to connect with local businesses and take part in study-specific internships.

The local community college focuses on technical trades and health services, among other careers, and the internships can be credit-based, paid or unpaid.

“An internship increases students’ chances to gain meaningful employment geared toward their skill sets and interests,” said Flecia Thomas, dean of student development at MCC. “You study and actually get out in the field and work.

There’s no other way to get experience without getting out there and doing it.”

Centegra internships include formal administration, field specific and nursing, as well as an administrative fellowship program for those who recently obtained a master’s degree and are looking for health care experience.

“When we are interviewing candidates that are new graduates, if they don’t have a lot of work experience, it is critical to have taken part in some type of internship,” said Matt Johnson, director of employment and development at Centegra. “We focus on the whole pipeline of people coming into health care fields.”

According to the surveys, 75 percent of employees hired through a company’s internship program were kept on after one year, compared with 66 percent for those without one on their résumé.

After five years, 62 percent of interns were still at the company, data show.

About 48 percent of hires with no prior experience were still with the company after five years.

Linnea Mason interned in the public affairs and marketing department at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington from December 2010 to May 2011 after graduating from Columbia College in Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in marketing and public relations.

Six months into her unpaid internship, a full-time community outreach position became available at the hospital. Mason has been a full-timer ever since.

“Because I was comfortable with the hospital already, it gave me that niche to getting the job,” the 25-year-old said. “Without having the relationships and experiences I had as an intern, I never would have gotten this job.”

Besides the benefits to the students, internships also are seen as a boon for the companies involved.

“We teach interns about the industry, but it also matches our desire to give back to the community,” said Jennifer Johnson, vice president of Exemplar Financial Network in Crystal Lake. “It bridges the gap between the classroom and the skills we need these students to come out of school with.”

Dawn Gillman, co-owner of Crystal Lake Engraving, agreed.

“You might get the best out of a person, and they get the best out of the experience,” said Gillman, who is in the process of selecting her first intern. “It’s real-world experience to match with their classroom experience. Having your boots on the ground is different than theories being taught in the classroom.”

Stak Enterprises Inc. in Algonquin is using its first intern.

The small, family-owned business specializing in the design and manufacturing of products that prevent water damage offered the internship as a project to update the company’s website.

“We can learn from him, and he can learn from us,” co-owner Laurie Johnson said. “On-the-job training is so valuable. You can learn from books, but real-life experience means so much more.”

Internship stats:

• 63 percent of paid interns received at least one job offer after graduation compared with 36 percent of those without internship experience.

• 55 percent of students in the Class of 2012 had internship experience, a number that is expected to grow by 8.5 percent next year.

• 75 percent of employees hired through a company’s internship program were kept on after one year compared to 66 percent of those without internship experience.

• 62 percent of employees with internship experience were still at the company after five years compared with 48 percent with no prior internship experience.

Source: National Association of Colleges and Employees

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