How internships can help your child plan their future career

Most educators agree that the days of sitting in a forward-facing classroom in neat little rows are over, and New York has been on the cutting edge in its creative response to not only the changing needs of today’s learners but the changing outlook of tomorrow’s workforce.

“There’s a whole movement that has grown to give students many different opportunities to get exposure to and prepare them for what’s going to occur in [their career or] college,” says Cecily Wilson-Turner, principal at Albany High School. “The skills students need now to be prepared for career and college are much different than they were 20 years ago.”

In October, the state Board of Regents agreed to allow high school students to put qualifying Career and Technical Education work experience toward graduation credits. And in September, a new class of Capital Region high school freshmen began a six-year path to earn not just their high school diplomas, but a no-cost college degree and, quite possibly, a really great job. All without incurring a penny of student-loan debt or the fate of so many jobless college grads today.

They did it with the help of internships. “Some of the most innovative programs in the country exist right here in New York,” says Stanley S. Hansen Jr., executive director of the New York State Education Department’s Office of Postsecondary Access, Support and Success, which administers work- and college-prep programs across the state.

Opportunities abound for Capital Region high school students looking to do more on their summer vacations than oversleep and hit the beach. Whether your student wants work experience, high school or college credit (or both), or a foot in the door at a local company or industry, the region’s colleges, businesses, non-for-profits and school systems are collaborating to create unique programs for just about every interest.

To give students a “glimpse into the working world,” the Albany Academies requires seniors to participate in “the May Project,” says Ann Wendth, director of institutional advancement for the independent college-prep schools. “During the month of May students don’t take any classes and they go out into the workforce in an area that they may be pursuing in college or an area that interests them,” says Wendth. Students have worked with law offices, hospitals, bakeries, recording studios, and a range of other businesses and organizations.

“It really encompasses a wide range of interests and in some cases the students finish their May Project thinking, ‘Boy, I’m not sure this is really what I want to do,’” she says, while for others, “it continues to spark the passion they have in that particular area.”

Many alumni of the 200-year-old pre-K-through-12th-grade schools live in the region and are more than happy to take an academy student for the month of May, says Wendth, noting that May Projects sometimes lead to future internships. “We tell students when they go out into the workforce, you never know where it might lead down the road,” says Wendth. “We try to encourage students while they’re here in high school how important networking is and oftentimes that’s how opportunities come our way.”

Albany students are introduced as early as middle school to the concept of planning for their future, says Wilson-Turner, creating a high-school plan around their career interests and the skills they’re going to need. “And then they continue that conversation once they arrive in high school,” she says.

The Abrookin Career and Technical Education Center at Albany High offers curricula that integrates classroom, technical and work experience to provide students with a individualized pathway to postsecondary education and careers. “Students take their classes and also do (internships) throughout the course of the year,” says Wilson-Turner.

Through partnerships like the “P-TECH,” the early college high school program, and others aimed at helping to prepare them for work or college, high school students can spend their summer sitting in on college classes, working for area businesses, volunteering for local non-for-profits, and polishing up their real-world career and college skills while earning money and high school or college credit.

CSArch, an Albany architecture, engineering and construction management firm, routinely employs area middle and high school interns who explore building design and construction by guiding a project from start to finish, along the way learning industry software, making presentations, compiling a portfolio and collaborating with other students and the firm’s professionals.

“I think as they grow up, kids know what career they might want to go into but they have no idea what is required to get there,” says Wilson-Turner, explaining the school’s role in preparing them throughout their middle- and high-school years to build a resume, hone career career exploration, resumes, interview coaching, and tons of options.

“One size does not fit all students,” writes New York Board of Regents member T. Andrew Brown in an editorial piece explaining the board’s decision. “We have to give students more options that meet the [state’s] higher standards and also provide different pathways to success.”

Around 10th grade, students may start exploring their career and college options, including internships, volunteer work and alternative educational opportunities with a guidance counselor or, at Albany High, at the Career and Technology Education Center.

But some may wish to start even sooner to take advantage of programs such as New York’s Pathways in Technology (P-TECH) Early College High School initiative, the six-year high-school-to-college path to a no-cost associate’s degree and, in most cases, a job. Launched in New York City in 2011 and adopted as a statewide initiative, P-TECH students receive career and technical training directly from instructors with experience in the field, including engineers, computer professionals, researchers and artists.

In 2013, the state funded 16 additional partnerships, including three projects in the Capital Region, which welcomed its first cohort of ninth graders in September. “These programs are a three-way partnership with a college, a school district and a business or industry,” says Hansen, “and they’re specifically designed to get students into a job at the end” with a partnering business or another in need of a skilled entry-level workforce.

P-TECH students start taking colleges courses as early as 10th grade, Hansen says. “So included in this will be some work-study at the business, internships, or projects that the business may have as part of their educational plan for that student.”

While full-time jobs with the partnering businesses can’t be guaranteed, Hansen says the businesses have “agreed to consider the students for a job when one becomes available. To put them at the top of the list.” That’s a pretty nice foot in the door.

How internships can help your child plan their future career