Students scramble for summer internships in downturn

By Kathy Kim

Students looking to obtain relevant work experience could have a difficult time finding them due to the current economic climate. Internship Director Michael Porter said that he has been seeing an increased “sense of urgency” in students seeking internships and planning for the future, resulting in increased competition for paid and unpaid internships.

Tuesday’s Minnesota Private College Internship Fair saw 20 percent fewer organizations than in the past while twice the usual number of students registered to attend.

Many organizations that usually attend Macalester’s Fair were not present, such as Best Buy Inc. and Target Corp. As companies adapt to the recession, many “don’t want to commit to internships,” Porter said.

Though non-profit organizations have been struggling from lack of donations, they are still offering a normal number of unpaid internships. As layoffs increase, interns’ duties may become more demanding.

Associate Director of Career Development Mary Emanuelson advises students to know the expectations of specific internships in order to prevent students from being saddled with more than a summer’s worth of work.

Taking responsibility for a job provides good fodder for resumes, but Porter and Emanuelson hope that internships are not trending toward taking the place of staff positions.

“We strongly discourage that interns take the place of a paid individual,” Porter said. “We don’t agree that it is a very viable role for students.”

As paid internships become more difficult to find, students may have to take the route of working a side job along with an unpaid internship in order to generate money and experience. Emanuelson said that the value of unpaid internships, volunteering, work studies or side jobs, and even school activities should not be underestimated.

Internship seekers will have to be perseverant and proactive in the search, but opportunities exist, Emanuelson said.

There are many different internships within the Twin Cities, but many students are heading to Washington, D.C. for work experience. Federal jobs are expected to increase in 2009, as are engineering services, banking, nursing, and telecommunications.

Porter said that a less-than-bountiful economy could, in fact, positively affect college students’ motivation to prepare for the future. He said that the fear students feel results in a growing awareness. The uncertainty could ultimately push them to plan their education and build up resumes.

“The value and importance of having an internship isn’t going to change,” Emanuelson said.