Summer Interns: Thank You and Good Luck

Posted on August 28, 2013

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The Doors are known for some classic rock songs; however, some of their portfolio’s relatively unknown tunes can hit just the right emotional note. One of those is a moody little lament called “Summer’s Almost Gone”—very appropriate now.

Even for those in the working world, summer has meaning outside of vacations.  A few more social events with coworkers around which to unwind, maybe “summer hours”.  At Haskell, summer is the season for interns.  We hire a handful of in-college and between college (undergrad-to-grad) interns in various parts of our company for the summer.

Two weeks ago, we sent the last of our summer interns back to school, and some of us are experiencing a bit of an empty nest.

Summer interns offer a lot more to companies than cheap labor.  Interns are great researchers, and provide an obvious link back to college, a formative time for everyone in the profession—especially the design studio for architects.  Interns come with ideas, and a Swiss Army knife of software knowledge that cannot be overlooked or undervalued.  Interns are eager and willing to work hard, veritable sponges.  Interns value the everyday workplace benefits regular employees take for granted.  Interns have their idealism and career goals largely intact, tabula rasa in architectural terms—a ‘blank slate’.

The architectural industry is notorious for its historically predatory (and in some cases, unethical and / or illegal) practices with its interns.  My guess is it is not the only industry, either.  It is a rough world when the resume is short and the desire for experience is great.  It is easy for managers to ignore summer interns amid the daily hubbub, to give them menial tasks, tasks which would turn most people’s brains to mush.  Don’t be That Manager.

Last fall, James Cramer (no, not the Mad Money guy) developed a twelve-point “Gentle Manifesto” to improve architectural education.  Of his twelve, I found several important suggestions which blended with the working world, and they can be summarized as follows:

  • More communication and integration between firms who hire graduates, and the schools that teach the graduates
  • More investment (donations) by firms to specific education programs
  • More teaching of business (financial, operations, marketing, cost analysis) skills in school, including guest lecturers

Internship is a dialogue and only as successful as what is put in, by company and intern.  Companies complain graduates are unproductive will always have that stance.  Instead, team with a school to build a program for your company’s needs.  Make an investment.

And for companies lucky enough to have interns, do yourself a favor and treat them with respect.  Take time out to mentor them, talk to them.  Introduce them to people inside and outside your company.  Take them to meetings. Ask them for help on a special project you have not gotten around to.  Challenge them.  Make them want to come back—not only to your profession, but to your company.

Besides, you may need tickets to the big game in a couple months, and you might need someone on the inside.  See how that works?  An intern taught me that.

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Posted in: Design Zeitgeist