Career Success Spotlight: Partnership for the Future

July 17, 2017

By Bill DeBaun, Director of Data and Evaluation

Download NCAN's full Career Success Spotlight brief

Earlier this year, NCAN hosted a Career Success Spotlight webinar (slides are here) with Partnership for the Future (PFF), a member based in Glen Allen, VA. President and CEO Charleita M. Richardson presented on various facets of PFF’s internship program, including how to make a successful experience for both students and businesses. NCAN hosted the webinar to further our work with Strada Education Network on helping members integrate college and career success.

Today, we announce the release of a brief recounting the lessons learned from the webinar in hopes that other members will be able to incorporate or adapt some of these practices into their own work. This post highlights some of these lessons, but we encourage members interested in establishing internship programs to read the brief in full.

Partnership for the Future started in 1994 with 12 students and three businesses. Today, the program serves an average of 200 students and 70 business partners. Its mission remains: Providing high-potential high school students from challenging circumstances in the metro-Richmond area with the tools and experiences necessary to attain a college degree. Ultimately, Richardson notes, PFF provides a holistic approach to life skills and education for students to convert their potential and prepare them for opportunities.

To participate in PFF, students move through a very competitive process that includes submitting multiple essays that demonstrate leadership skills, career goals, and a desire to go to college. Of approximately 200 applicants annually, PFF selects 75 to 80 for a panel interview that includes a current PFF student, a staff member, and a board member or PFF parent. PFF selects 50 students from these interviews, who once they are accepted, make a three-year commitment to PFF (and vice versa).

Then the training begins. “We have made a commitment to our businesses that every student is going to be fully trained,” Richardson explains. “We have taken the time and invested the time to make sure [the students] can be successful.”

Students undergo a whole year of training before being placed into an internship. The PFF Institute takes place in the summer between 9th and 10th grades and features a series of workshops focusing on soft skills. The week after the institute ends, a ritual begins, one that will become familiar to PFF students by the time they graduate high school: weekly Friday sessions.

Richardson noted three initial steps to securing businesses: identify your partners, determine needs and goals, and establish the early logistics.

PFF maintains contact with school districts, transportation partners (generally public ones), host sites for training (if necessary), and core “founding” businesses. After making initial contact, programs must then determine the need for an internship program as well as its goals. The brief considers issues related to this topic in-depth.

Richardson advised that “cold calling” is not effective for securing internships for high school students, and it is best to work from the top. Remember that this is going to be a long-term process. Conversations for PFF’s 2017 cohort began in 2014, 2015, or 2016.

“It may take several years to develop the relationship so that we’re able to host an intern,” Richardson explained. “In that timeframe, we are inviting businesses to our events, summer celebrations, and training sessions. At the end of the day, the more they are connected to the students, the more comfortable they feel having students come to their site.”

Richardson also discussed the following early logistical points for an internship program: length of internship, number of hours per week, paid vs. unpaid internships, types of internships (e.g., office jobs, field jobs, etc.), expectations of sponsors, and transportation. The brief, again, considers these topics in-depth.

Once PFF secures business sponsors, they match students and sponsors.

“First things first, make sure your students understand the internship is earned, not given,” said Richardson. Let students know that they earn their internship through their grades, participation, and leadership. That fact established, students complete a profile questionnaire about their interests and skills that helps PFF staff get to know students beyond what they see on a daily basis. Businesses complete their own company culture form, from which PFF develops a quasi-Myers-Briggs score of the company’s culture to begin to understand the best place to place a student. The company form includes the kinds of projects to which students will be assigned to ensure skill alignment.

Before the start of the internship, PFF reminds students and parents to set realistic internship goals, and reviews expectations and topics learned over the previous year. A May meet-and-greet with students, parents, and businesses kicks off the internship season and builds excitement, while also setting expectations early for open communication between all parties.

During the internship, both students and sponsors have access to a hotline staffed eight hours a day. PFF staff also perform site visits, provide email reminders, and are readily available should issues arise for either group. Further, students have additional access to staff during the weekly Friday training sessions. Business sponsors evaluate students at the middle and end of the internship. With each successive summer, students return to the same internship, but with increased responsibility. Students are eligible for a pay increase each summer, based on their performance evaluations.

Partnership for the Future has a documented ability to help students succeed in college and career. The Career Success Spotlight webinar, which is available via NCAN’s webinar archives, and the newly released brief offer a number of insights for programs starting to provide career success services -- and an internship program in particular -- and for programs wanting to do more in this area. As more and more members incorporate career success activities into their college access and success programming, it is important to continue to look toward members who have done this work and to learn from their successes.

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