Ross Woods, rev. Revised 2012, '18
We pooled experience on internships. Internships are study programs where most learning is done on the job, in such a way that students are still eligible for Austudy.
What resources do you need?
- The main resources are a good plan, creative project ideas, and staff time.
- You need good staff who are the right people for the job, and they need formal qualifications.
- Make a schedule for each semester.
- Good Public Relations approach with a clear strong vision.
- Good assessment tools.
How do you plan an internship?
- I ask three questions: Who are we? What do we do? What will work best for us?
- I ask, "Who are we serving? What are their needs?"
- Use job descriptions so interns know what they're supposed to be doing and what goals they should aim for.
- To turn a bunch of units into a plan, start with the big picture and make sure you get a workable outline of the tasks.
- The program needs a clearly field-driven philosophy and ethos. The point of the program is to "do it out there" and not in isolation in a classroom. It attracts people who would rather do it than study it.
What are the best project ideas you ever had?
- Use the Advanced Diploma of Children's Services to train a children's pastor.
- The churches in the area were asked to run a kids' tent at the shire's community fair. The interns did most of the work as a project and it covered a lot of units.
- One church ran a weekly preschool group and gave the mums a morning tea together in another room. Simple but excellent way for the interns to do childcare, while providing a good mum's group ministry.
- Outsource to other organizations:
- Volunteering Australia provides training and projects for free.
- Fusion and YFC accept volunteers for their projects and give them the training for free.
- Look at your practicum placement options outside. Being creative is good for everyone. E.g. you can lend a student to be volunteer in an organization that is very different from yours or doing something experimental. Some government community programs also accept volunteers.
- Interns helped with Leavers and the school chaplains provided the training.
- Melville volunteer center will place interns as volunteers in many different roles. Some of these positions are good for orientation to an industry.
- Citizens Advice Bureau (www.cabwa.com.au) accepts volunteers for community work roles in referrals and mediation.
- Learning for Life teaches a wide variety of subjects to male juveniles in prison, as well as doing visitation.
- Esther House accepts volunteers to work in various roles with young women, many of whom are recovering from substance dependence.
What are the best things you have learnt?
- Make training ingrained into your organizational culture over time.
- Use what they will do anyway. E.g.
- If the church is running a course, make it part of the program, even if you have to add an assignment.
- If you're running a major event, use it as a project.
- In-church Christian training alone isn't enough for out-there youth work in the wider community.
- Cluster units into larger projects and combine assessments as much as you can.
- The kind of organization can have an effect:
- Students in organizations with excellent on-job training sometimes don't get much value from formal training. Some think it's a waste of time, but others like to get some structure for what they know or hear other opinions.
- Students in some large organizations have less need of structure because they already get good peer-team support and mentoring. (But some other organisations give much less peer-team support.)
- Students in small organizations can get most benefit from the program because they work alone, get little or no mentoring, and will more likely be given heavier responsibilities sooner.
- If competency is the goal, on-the-job training can not only produce more competent people, but achieve the goal in less time.
- The proportion of time spent in classroom work apparently needs to be higher in some professions, where students must master a larger body of information.
- Internships should be fun. (That's not the same as entertainment.) Interns need a good team experience so they should meet often enough as a team. They also need a challenge, and an opportunity to do something worthwhile.
- Don't make interns into slaves. (It's so tempting to get the young men to do all heavy lifting.)
- Some colleges use a procedure in which the student is considered proficient when he/she has not only learnt the skill, but also can pass it on to another student.
This approach requires a supervisor who monitors the process and is accountable for outcomes. It works best where teaching is excellent evidence of mastery of a skill, or where postgraduates are essentially teaching each other in a peer community under a senior supervisor. It does not apply so well where skills in teaching are peripheral. As a set of stages:
- The student learns the skill.
- The student gets experience using the skill. (The student gains confidence, explores implications, becomes proficient in handling non-normal cases, and learns to solve any problems that arise.)
- The student teaches the skill to a new student.
- The student coaches the new student to get experience.
- Make the work meaningful. It should be a critical part of the work. Interns don't mind doing some unpleasant work if they see it's a necessary part of something worthwhile.
- Give interns clear job descriptions, and make them subject to the same discipline as staff. This means:
- working toward clear goals
- giving warnings for poor performance.
- expecting a level of responsibility and professionalism, even when interns are very relational and informal.
- Have good on-site supervisors.
- Working in partnerships with others is better than going on your own. For example, you can share resources, and put students together from different streams to learn common competencies.
You can lend interns to volunteer organizations who don't offer formal training. But they might provide one or more other things that together are just as good:
- OHS training (required by law)
- a buddy to show the intern what to do
- a job description with performance criteria
- a quality-control system
- feedback to the intern
- feedback to the RTO
- Interns are mostly young and seeking direction in their lives. This is often more important than formal training and you must make sure that you address this well. Have some kind of counseling or mentoring support in place.
- Recognized training is more thorough that unrecognized training. Everybody now has to have all the skills. (In the past, unrecognized training was done in groups, and it was enough to know that the group had the skills.)
- Work with onsite staff:
- Interview the mentor/coach and instructor. You may need to give training to local supervisors to get them up to speed, and they may need to learn some new skills. They may also need to collaborate with other supervisors.
- Interview the organizational supervisor and the local instructor together at the beginning and the end of the internship to ensure that they are on the same page and applying the same standard.
- Make sure the off-job training instructor relates closely with the workplace supervisor.
- When you do program review, make sure that you clarify the feedback with participants and actually use it for improvements. Otherwise people treat it as extra bureaucracy and don't bother giving good comment.
- Teach exposition by leading interns in a Bible study and then assess them by getting them to lead a Bible study.
- Change management is part of running internships:
- Identify "champions" to lead change. People need to see models of how new ideas work.
- Run promotional campaigns to target key influencers (e.g. parents, pastors).
- Training plans need to be consulted with on-job people and be a useful document. E.g. they need to list tasks and use ordinary language.
- Make sure off-job teaching staff have strong, current skills.
- Orientation to the workplace is a rich learning experience in itself, and one that campus-based programs often don't do well.
- Interns who are doing a good job still need regular support. The program can fall in a heap if they feel they need it but don’t get it.
- Students usually need a set-apart time at least every week with their mentors.
- Keep paper trails (especially on time usage and projects) for Austudy.
- Use mentor and supervisor references to simplify assessment.
- Give interns a whole experience. It's not just about learning skills.
- When students have an holistic experience of the work, it becomes easier to reflect on it and analyze it from different viewpoints (shine light on it from different directions).
- Avoid offering too many units.
- Internships vary with the area of study:
- Some areas of study lend themselves better to all on-job learning than others.
- Some apparently need a higher proportion of time spent in classroom work needs to be higher in some professions, where students must master a larger body of information.
- Having said that, some people have tendencies toward one or the other. Some learn better in internships and some in class.
- Limit the line of authority. (Everyone wants to run the interns.) Allow access only through the line manager.
- Watch the group dynamics.
- It can be unproductive to put the interns "on show". While staff meetings work well in some places, they are not always beneficial for students.
Students who are doing a good job still need regular support. The program can fall in a heap if they feel they need help but don’t get it.
- Internships can vary greatly with the kind of organization:
- Interns in some organizations have less need of the internship and external support because they already get good peer-team support, mentoring, and excellent on-job training. Some students don't get much value from formal training and might think it's a waste of time. Others like training to get some structure for what they know or hear other opinions.
- Interns in small organizations may get most benefit from the program because they work alone, get little or no mentoring, have little peer support, and are more likely be given heavier responsibilities sooner.
- If competency is the goal, on-the-job training can not only produce more competent people, but achieve the goal in less time.
What routines do you suggest?
- Trip away to serve at a church camp, weekly practicum at Sunday a.m. kids, assist in the Sunday p.m. service, run a group in the local high school, Friday night youth activity, and a monthly group.
- One night a week ministry in a group, one night a week training in a group, one training day or morning every two weeks. Two or three days in the office each week. Gives them time for a part-time job.
How much time does it take to run an internship? Why?
- It depends on lots of factors: How much can be outsourced, how much the training is integrated into ministry and activities that need to be done.
- Allow time to get the paperwork done, and give time to the team, to preparation, and to assessment.
What kinds of potential problems are there in running internships?
- Team relationships. You need to put time into the team. If a team is positive, lots of things work well. If the team is negative, nothing works well.
- You need to police the lines of accountability because everybody wants to be in charge of the interns.
- Make sure interns feel the internship is a positive experience, and don't feel like slaves. Get them to learn to be servants, but not slaves.
- When clustering units, don't make the clusters too big. Otherwise, students can't get a Statement of Attainment if they leave. Besides, huge clusters can be hard to manage.
What kinds of support have you found that students need? (Emotional, coaching or mentoring, buddies, training days as a group, etc.)
- Take some time to do fun stuff as a group with younger interns.
- In some organizations, you can make interns co-workers in the team and work closely and collaboratively with them.
- Changing people is more important than teaching lists of skills. If you shape the person, the skills are just checking details. Peole need emotional support, and to feel part of a team.
- Students need up to four kinds of supervision:
- Liaison with RTO. Accountability to a training program supervisor always requires a paper trail of reports and reviews.
- Accountability to a local workplace supervisor. This might require a paper trail of reports or reviews.
- People who will teach them skills on the job. This is often the local workplace supervisor, but could be other people.
- Personal mentor. This is especially important in intensively interpersonal work. It is usually best if it is not a supervisor to whom the intern is accountable, because the supervisor might be the cause of many frustrations.
What is the optimal team size?
- Maximum 20, spread over four or five locations using local supervisors.
- Perhaps up to 50, but spread out.
- Optimal numbers are largely related to the quality and effectiveness of the training tools, clarity of job descriptions, and having the right supervisors. Over time, you would probably be able to assess an optimal team size.
- We have only six places. Ministry is our core business, not training.
What are your most pressing questions?
- How do you balance teaching and practicum?
Can it be longer than the Austudy time? How do you have time to do all units and work in one year?
- The current trend seems to be either to shrink the teaching component and expand the practicum or vice versa, which is one way of saying that nobody really knows. The idea of internship is to learn on the job as much as possible, but everybody is saying that you need some teaching or off-job training.
- Issues: The internship must be a learning experience for students, not just "working for free."
The judgment call is "When are we acting in the best interests of our students? When are the requirements of the job something that the students must simply learn to do? And when do I admit that extra requirements of the job are exploitative?" So its really a shades of gray question.
How could Austudy work to suit us better and still be okay?
- We have often tried to cram too much into internships for various reasons. (e.g. catch prerequisites, do two qualifications in parallel, etc.)
Does training distract us from our core mission?
Is training sustainable when you have a small number of students?
- Some of what we do in one year needs to be restructured into two years.
How do you get the best cost-benefit ratio?
- Might depend of various factors, such as the value of their work, whether you can share the admin and teaching loads, how necessary are the skills?
What three things are most difficult? How did you overcome them?
The admin load is quite high and very bureaucratic.
We have one qualification that is too easy for the kinds of student it attracts, because they have already done it to a fairly high standard in Year 12.
Fees: How much money does it cost to run an internship? What kind of fees do you need to charge students?
- It depends of outsourced and free stuff. Costs can actually be very minimal. Staff time is the main cost. Interns need to be kept busy with meaningful activity and they need supervision.
- It can depend on the value of the work they do.
- It costs more than you think.
What is the most efficient way of assessing internships?
- On job. Tick off what needs to be done.
- Do the training and assessment as a group. The team brings the slower ones along.
- Use written reports and diaries for assessment. It is sometimes much more practical than going on-site and directly observing students. In other cases, direct observation is easy and most practical and cuts out unnecessary paperwork.
- If you have to use paper assignments, try to use paperwork that they have to do anyway as part of the job.
- Make your assessment very consistent.
- Try using job descriptions and/or learning contracts to review what has been done. These can cover lots of assessment requirements.
- The most practical kinds of assessment tools are:
- Job descriptions with goals.
- Task checklists. (But be careful to include required knowledge.)
- Adapt generic assessment tools to your particular needs. (e.g. MACs, 360º) Just make sure you cover all requirements.
- Some people found workbooks helpful for knowledge and assessment.
How do you make sure that you meet all requirements?
You have to do mapping of some kind.
How do you recruit students most effectively?
- Internships are primarily "gap year" experiences, that is, a year between high school and whatever they will do next (e.g. university)
- Have a clear vision about what you want to achieve.
- Use your personal networks.
- Make clear decisions about part-time students. Sometimes you can't really accept part-timers.
What stages are there is an internship?
- You need to plan carefully, because things left undone tend to accumulate, and then at the end of the year you have to catch up on it all. So get as much assessment as possible done before last term.
- One set:
One practicum was split into three stages:
- Formative assessment
- Orientation, period of grace. Be tolerant of mistakes; people are still adjusting and learning)
- Middle period. Expect consistent performance. Do the main part of assessment during this time. (If you leave assessment too late, there is so much to do that the programs descends into chaos.)
- Final period: expect consistent performance at full professional standard. Students build a CV.