R. Bruce Anderson
We are on the precipice, economists say, of one of the biggest boomtimes in American finance and business to hit since the 1950s.
This is particularly true for central Florida. With the boom comes a demand for educated workers and future leaders – and public service professionals to guide the process. City government is cross-pressured: The working population is aging, many on the point of retirement; leadership in management is solid, but they are not going to be with us forever.
Fortunately, we have a well-spring of the right people coming along. There are four excellent colleges and universities here producing trained folks, many willing to stay. The problem, as always, is keeping them here.
“Practical training,” or experience, is a key element. This is especially true in public service – if they are competing for a job that requires training in administration and organizational skills, the best training is on the job.
Internships are the answer.
The notion of combining a college education with practical training is hardly new – but has expanded exponentially in recent years, with other fundamentals of “experiential learning.” Interning is working, as opposed to “shadowing” – which is often of little practical use. Getting your hands dirty. Often doing the lowest level jobs in an area of interest to you – applying what you have learned in the classroom to the world as it actually is.
Business got on board with the practice early – and it loves interning because it sets up “conversion,” a term that refers to folks who come as interns and stay on as workers and management. In my own role, I’ve loaded lots of political campaigns with students interested in the process, from both parties (and none). The local Bar Association has been incredibly helpful to us in landing pre-law internships in local firms, from the big folks to the single-shingle operations.
Students start at the very bottom – making coffee, filing files, answering phones, copying. They do not know anything (that’s why they are there), so they typically are not directly compensated until they do. But they have an unparalleled opportunity to see if they are truly interested.
Government internships are usually fairly easy to get at the national level. The Department of State, the U.S. Congress and the White House have all been served by students from my home institution.
But local government? There are some real bright spots. The county transport service has been truly stellar and has made a real art of converting and retaining local college kids, hiring them into the ranks. The county itself takes a few. But the city administration appears to be flatly negative on the idea of interns, and this is where some of the best experiences could be generated.
I’m mystified. As Florida grows, having solid urban planning, from traffic flow to land development, may make all the difference. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, city departments oppose any sort of year-round internship program and are resistant to calls to have it implemented.
One of our city commissioners recently said that “if we could create a broader approach within City Hall, I think we would see an increase of students pursuing public service careers that would not only provide them a career path, but concurrently deflect the silver tsunami we are witnessing with baby boomers retiring from the workforce. As we know, education is the backbone of our community’s economy. Through internships, we are training new professionals while retaining talent locally. Internships and talent retention are game changers in a community like ours.”