Reinventing the Internship Rules for a 21st Century Workforce

September 19, 2016

Kim Vu, Puget Sound CSR Manager Bank of America


sponsored by Bank of America

When Pearl Woo walked into the Washington State Low Income Housing Alliances annual meeting last summer, she felt a jolt of excitement at seeing so many nonprofit leaders together in one place. As a new intern, this was her first time attending a meeting of this caliber. She left feeling overwhelmingly inspired by the passion that radiated from the other attendees as they discussed their goals for affordable housing in Washington State.

Woos experience is a far cry from the image that the term intern typically conjures: a frazzled student running from the copy machine to the coffee shop and responding to the whimsical requests of their employer. Millennial and Gen Z interns are more entrepreneurial and expect to add real value to their company rather than simply completing menial tasks, and theyre seeking out internships at a much younger ageWoo had just graduated from Kentridge High School when she started her internship at Imagine Housing, a nonprofit affordable housing developer on the Eastside, as part of Bank of Americas Student Leaders program.

Woo saw the program as a way to gain real-world experience, while earning much-needed money to help fund her college education.

The program seemed like a great opportunity to work with an organization that would mentor me, said Woo. The fact that it was paid was also important. I needed to put money toward college and the fact that I landed a spot in a highly regarded paid internship program makes me more competitive for future internship and job prospects.

Woos experience with Bank of America and Imagine Housing is part of a growing trendnearly half of high school students surveyed by Millennial Branding are participating in professional internships. With an increasingly competitive college admissions process, stubbornly high youth unemployment figures, and skyrocketing tuition rates, high school students see internships as an opportunity to build the critical skills that they need to be successful while earning money that they can put towards their higher education or other financial goals.

Every year since 2004, Bank of Americas Student Leaders program has connected 225 rising seniors or incoming college freshman with local nonprofit organizations to complete a paid summer internship. As part of the program, students also attend a week-long convention in Washington D.C. where they meet other like-minded Student Leaders from across the country and learn how government, public and private sectors work together to address community issues.

In todays competitive employment environment, students must start building the skills they need for their careers in high school, said Anthony DiBlasi, Seattle Market and Washington State President for Bank of America. The goal of the Student Leaders program is to help high schoolers access the resources and training that will prepare them for future success. This is critical not only for the long-term success of the students who participate in the program, but also for our local and national economies.

Cultivating a 21st Century Workforce

Our economic landscape is evolving at dizzying speeds. Demand for workers in the technical and service sectors is rapidly rising, and the skills students need to be successful in these fields are very different than the skills that traditional K12 curriculums in the United States teach.

A survey conducted by the American Management Association illustrated that todays business managers are seeking employees with a combination of technical skills such as problem solving and critical thinking, and people skills such as collaboration and clear communication.

Traditional education alone wont prepare students to meet these demands: Many high school graduates lack workplace skills such as teamwork, oral and written presentation skills, and the ability to manage ones own learning and work.

Fortunately, programs like Bank of Americas Student Leaders and others are emerging to help students more easily acquire the necessary skills for their resumes and to better prepare students for joining the workforce after graduation. In fact, Bank of America recently made a $40 million commitment to connect 100,000 teens and young adults to the skills and employment experiences needed for 21st century jobs over the next three years.

The Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County (WDC) is partnering with Bank of America to help lead the movement in Washington State. WDCs Youth at Work program sponsors summer job opportunities for youth ages 14 to 24 to support the development of workplace skills. Last year Bank of America gave WDC a $90,000 grant to support the program, which allowed WDC to expand participation to 45 economically disadvantaged youth at a variety of worksites, with an emphasis on high-growth industry sectors.

As the skills we need to be successful evolve, it is incredibly important that we give young adults the opportunities and support they need to build their career skills, said Marlena Sessions, CEO, of the WDC. We are very pleased to partner with Bank of America to expand our program, especially at such a pivotal time when many youth need additional support to develop skills outside the scope of traditional education.

Building a Bright Future

As Woo prepares to start her sophomore year at the University of Washington, she is optimistic about what the future holds. She plans to double-major in microbiology and medical laboratory science with the intent to pursue a career as a pediatric critical care specialist.

Woo is currently interning at Seattle Childrens Hospital where she works in a lab that focuses on research related to autism treatments. Woos work now is radically different than her experience as a Student Leader, but the skills she learned during her time at Imagine Housing helped her secure her current position and prepare her for entering the workforce after graduation.

I left [The Student Leaders program] with a lot more confidence, said Woo. I learned a lot of management, leadership and organizational skills. By the end of my internship, I was creating most of the curriculum for Imagine Housings summer camp for kids, and being trusted to manage that process was a great learning opportunity. I was also communicating with politicians and writing letters requesting their support. Imagine Housing gave me structure and guidance, but they also provided the right amount of freedom, and that helped me grow and learn what it means to make an impact where I work.

At Bank of America were helping making peoples financial lives better through the power of every connection we make with our employees, our customers and the greater Seattle community. Shared success is an important part of how our company is growing responsibly. Thats why we are proud to be a signature sponsor of this years Seattle Business Magazine Community Impact Awards to celebrate the very best companies and nonprofit organizations that are committed to making our community a better place to live, work and thrive. And to celebrate our support of the community, this piece is one in a series we are hosting to showcase stories about our employees, customers and community partners.