One of the reasons I advocate for internship and apprenticeship opportunities for young people is because of the opportunities that I experienced myself as a young person starting out.
When I graduated from high school, I enrolled in the tech program in college to become a chemical engineer. I applied for and joined an organization called INROADS. INROADS helps young people in underserved communities learn how to join the business world by helping them obtain internships with businesses in the area. I attended its Chicago events on the weekends and worked at U.S. Steel in Gary, Indiana, for two summers (in the Coke plant the summer before freshman year and in the sheet and tin mill the summer before sophomore year).
Sophomore year came and went, physics kicked my butt, and I changed my major to technical theater before the end of the year. By senior year, I had an internship for my arts management class at the Black Ensemble Theater in Chicago that spring; I realized I loved working in the theater.
Those experiences led me on the career path that I have been on for the past 25 years.
All that said, paid internships are vitally important for young people to help them find the paths that they’d like to pursue in life. How can we in the audiovisual industry create opportunities for young people to find their way to us?
1. Talk to young people in your area about what you do in the industry.
Attend a career day at your child’s school, talk with a girl/boy scout troop, or invite high school students to come to a local event at your office or in your region. Introduce them to our industry and help them understand that not only do they have an opportunity to have a career in AV, but they can be the future leaders that we need to keep our industry moving forward and thriving.
2. Create an onboarding and training plan for interns and apprentices.
When someone new starts at your office, whether a temporary, part-time or full-time hire, they need to know the lay of the land. Create a plan for them before they begin that helps them onboard as quickly as possible. Having them rotate through the departments to meet their colleagues and understand what they do is an example of the bare minimum that this training that should include. The more understanding and respect teams have for one another within an organization, the more productive, efficient and profitable those organizations will be.
I once created a “Helpful Hints” document for myself at an organization that included written instructions for how to log in to the CRM, timeclock, and order system, as well as the process for getting your orders processed through accounting and operations. If there is no formal onboarding process at your organization, you don’t need to be asked to be helpful to new people starting with your organization, just jump in and share your knowledge — this will make you and that new person feel good, and it will help young people feel welcome and a part of the organization quickly. I shared this document with new colleagues as they arrived and I hope that it is still being updated and shared there now.
3. Reach out to associations and organizations that are already doing this work.
The AVIXA Foundation and NSCA’s Ignite Program have programming right now to attract interested young people to our technology industries. You can volunteer with them and bring their programming to a group that you know or introduce them to a K-12 school or technical/ community/ four-year college near you.
4. If you are interested in finding new, diverse talent for your organization, go to the places where that talent exists.
There is diverse talent at HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) around the country. Students who participate in job training programs like NPower, YearUp and INROADS are in their late teens and early twenties and may or may not be enrolled in college. These programs have offices around the U.S. and are always looking for companies to partner with to talk with students about their careers or to place their students in paid temporary and/or permanent positions. The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) are just two of the professional associations that guide students of color towards careers in STEM. Links are included to check out these associations in your area.
There are many other organizations helping young people find their way to STEM and business opportunities. If you know of one in your area, please chime in and shout it out. If you are talking with students or have an internship or apprentice program in your company, please share it as well. What you’re doing could be a good example for others in the industry to model and we’d love to hear from you. If you need a place to start, let me know and I’d be happy to point you in the right direction.