Area business leaders learn ‘ins and outs’ of internships
WILKES-BARRE — When Maureen Ciliberto was an intern “back in the day,” fetching coffee was one of the duties.
“I was able to observe a lot, but I was more like extra help,” said Ciliberto, career services coordinator at Penn State Wilkes-Barre. “Back then, there were no real guidelines (for internships).”
Internships have changed significantly since then, she said, and a recent program sponsored by Penn State Wilkes-Barre, Penn State Career Services, and the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce helped to bring area business leaders up to speed.
Representatives from about two dozen businesses attended “The Ins & Outs of Internships” held Wednesday at the Wilkes-Barre THINK Center on South Main Street to learn more about the benefits and challenges of providing real-world experience to college students. Other chamber members were able to view the discussion remotely via a live stream.
The panel discussion included Ciliberto, Joseph Boylan, vice president of economic development at the chamber; Lisa Hall Zielinski, director of The University of Scranton’s Small Business Development Center; Theresa Celemente, a business instructor and internship coordinator at Penn State Wilkes-Barre; and Carl Witkowski, chief operating officer and executive vice president of Berkshire Hathaway Guard Insurance Companies.
Susan Chappell, employer engagement coordinator at Penn State University, served as moderator.
Boylan said the first-ever, free event was a continuation of the chamber’s new focus — connecting the local business community with college students.
“When we talk to our members, this topic constantly comes up,” said Boylan. “Academic institutions are looking to place students (in internships). Rather than losing interns to outside (of the area) companies, there is a tremendous opportunity here.”
Some of the topics discussed included how to start an internship program, best practices of internships, and what an internship actually entails.
There is a misconception that an internship is “free labor,” Ciliberto said.
“If a student is performing real work, they really should be getting paid,” she said. “An intern can’t displace an employee and can’t be extra help, or else that violates the Department of Labor law.”
The Fair Labor Standards Act outlines the requirements for paid and unpaid interns. According to the law, unpaid internships cannot result in a financial benefit to a for-profit company – the “experience is for the benefit of the intern.”
Chuck Kemzura, TSS director at Children’s Behavioral Health Services Inc., said the company does have an internship program, but it is looking to expand its offerings.
He recognizes the importance of getting real-world experience as a college student. His own interning experience helped solidify his career choice.
“I was an intern in the human services field, but I worked with adults,” he said. “I realized that helping the kiddos was more important (to me).”
Brooke Bishop, human resources coordinator at Pepperjam, also knows firsthand the benefit of internships; she was hired full time at Pepperjam shortly after her own stint as an intern. “Now I’m the head of the internship program there,” she said.
Panelists discussed organizations that help businesses build internship programs. Hall Zielinski said it’s just as important for businesses to be prepared to begin the program as it is for students.
“Students have the career services centers at their schools,” she said. “Businesses need to make sure they have the equipment, facilities, resources and time (to handle interns).”
In a recent chamber survey, 78 percent of businesses expressed interest in working with area colleges, but only half of those had internship programs in place, Boylan said.
He also said businesses need to build their brands in order to attract intern applicants.
“At Pepperjam, 90 percent of interns are hired full time,” he said. “In a classroom at King’s (College), I asked students who’s heard of Pepperjam, and no one raised their hand. We need to introduce students to our entrepreneurial and start-up community.”
Do you have more questions about the ‘ins and outs’ of internships or want to attend an ‘internships 101’ session? Contact Nicki Sanders, Internship Consultant to learn more about starting an internship program and managing interns.