Example of well-executed infill development in a downtown area

Internships are commonly understood to be a win-win for employer and intern—the employer gets an affordable (or even free) source of labor, while the intern gains valuable work experience.

But if not structured correctly, internships can actually turn into a headache for all involved parties—for instance, if supervisors spend more time training interns than it would have taken to simply do the work themselves, or if the intern is assigned such menial tasks that little learning occurs.

To prevent these missed opportunities and make sure students are receiving fruitful on-the-job learning experiences that prepare them for their future careers, the University of Wisconsin System (UW System) and WEDC have teamed up to create the “How-To Talent Generator,” an online tool that guides employers in designing internships.

The tool, which is offered free of charge, was designed specifically for small and midsize Wisconsin companies and includes modules on internship basics, legal requirements, and best practices for supervising interns, among other topics.

These resources were developed in collaboration with Market & Johnson, an Eau Claire–based construction company that manages its own highly successful internship program. Hiring managers from American Family Insurance, ProHealth Care, and Royal Credit Union also provided video testimonials describing the important role internships play in their efforts to attract, develop and retain talent.

The platform was created to help develop the state’s workforce by making it possible for more employers to deploy internships, says WEDC Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes.

“Businesses told us it would be useful to have a primer on internships to help ensure successful outcomes for both hiring managers and mentors, and for the students involved,” she says. “Small and midsize firms, typically the fastest-growing segment of our state economy, often run very lean and may not have the capacity to launch these types of learning experiences. This innovative resource helps reduce some of the barriers to tapping the student talent pipeline in Wisconsin.”

UW System President Ray Cross says the new tool will help retain young workers in Wisconsin by connecting them with local companies and providing a clear path for them to utilize their skills.

“Today, more than 80% of UW System graduates live in Wisconsin five years after graduation, and we see this new resource as one more tool to help that number grow,” says Cross. “We know that every time a student secures an internship with a Wisconsin employer, the likelihood of them staying here increases.”

Already, UW System students participate in internships, co-ops, or other work-based learning opportunities at a rate higher than the national average. Of seniors in spring 2017, 56% participated in an internship or field experience, compared to 47% nationally.

Cross notes that one of the goals of the UW System 2020FWD strategic framework is to provide every student with the opportunity to experience at least two high-impact learning practices, which include internships. “Building our state’s talent pipeline and supporting our future economic vitality is influenced by our ability to prepare students for the world of work,” he says.