Internships critical for college students to gain edge in job market

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The U.S. unemployment rate at 4.4 percent is at its lowest level in 10 years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there are more than 6.2 million job openings. But just because there are jobs doesn’t mean that graduating college students are guaranteed work.

One thing that can hurt graduating students’ chances of getting a job is the lack of an internship on their resume. Internships can demonstrate that students gained on-site and hands-on experience in their field of study.

“It’s real-word experience,” said Zita Arocha, associate professor of practice in the UT El Paso Department of Communication. “You’re going to go into a company…and you’re going to see how things work.”

In 2015, students that participated in internships were 51 percent more likely to receive a job offer than students with no internship, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ (NACE) Class of 2015 Student Survey.

Internships can be paid or unpaid. Some universities offer for-credit internship arrangements for students to gain experience in the field. Legal criteria on paid and unpaid internships is enforced by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Company that offer unpaid internships can’t use the interns for routine labor, but need to provide an educational experience. The criteria outlined by the Fair Labor Standards Act includes:

  • The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern.
  • The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff.
  • The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.

Some companies only offer paid internships to avoid any potential misunderstandings about the intern’s role. Paid interns take on the similar responsibilities of regular staff. But a paid intern might be also be given additional clerical or manual labor tasks (taking out the trash, cleaning bathrooms, etc.) that aren’t done by regular staff.

Paid and unpaid internships have their advantages and disadvantages, but paid internships may have the most important advantage.

According to the NACE survey, an average of 59 percent of paid interns were offered jobs compared to 42 percent of unpaid interns. Additionally, average starting salaries that accompanied job offers to paid interns was $46,710 compared to $35,322 offered to unpaid interns.

“We really advocate for employers to be paying
students,”said
Betsy Castro, director of the Career Center at UTEP. “We know they’re going to benefit
from the experience.”

Castro said that even if students don’t get paid internships, “we want to make
sure students are at least getting academic credit.”

Gloria Heredia showing her press badge. Photo courtesy Gloria Heredia.

Gloria Heredia, a multimedia journalist student at UTEP, has done two internships at news organizations in Killeen and Victoria, Texas.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a kinesiology major or anything [other majors], internships are so, so important,” Heredia said.

Heredia received $10 per hour at her first internship at the Killeen Daily Herald. At the end of the internship she was offered a job, but declined it in order to return to finish school.

Her second internship at The Victoria Advocate was funded by the Buster Haas Minority Internship Program. This program is sponsored by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors Association.

According to TAPME, the program, “aims to increase the number of minority journalists working in newsrooms across Texas.”

“I didn’t think I was going to get it … but I got it,” Heredia said. “It really changed my life. It made me a better journalist.”

Heredia, who also served as the president of the UTEP student chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, thinks that internships are important in every field, not just journalism.

“That’s what makes the difference between you and another person. Thousands of people graduate, but only a few get the job right after they graduate.”

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