Q&A with Joan Kwiatkowski, CEO of CareLink and PACE Organization of RI

Joan Kwiatkowski, CEO of CareLink and PACE Organization of RI, weighs in on internships.

Q.What is the main reason you host interns at your organization? 

A. Professional growth for our staff and the intern, build the workforce with better prepared workers and expose students to the good work of nonprofit health care.

Q. What are the top three ways your organization benefits from interns?

A. 1) Staff who supervise interns learn how to teach and mentor 2) bigger projects can be divided and completed quicker and better 3) we hire them for permanent jobs

Q. What is the most challenging part of structuring an internship program?

A. Insuring a sound learning experience with credible and resume-worthy experience and selecting interns who are sincere about their commitment to learn and try.

Q. Have you have a favorite intern? What about that person most impressed you?

Truly we have had many wonderful interns- we are most proud when we hear back from them telling us their work for us was what landed them a great job or acceptance to graduate school.  We have met our goal of building one individual and adding talent to the whole workforce.

Q. Do you pay your interns? Why or why not?

We do. We also have student interns through various colleges and they are not paid.  But we hire two interns every summer and we do pay them a reasonable wage for an entry professional.

Q. Who do you think benefits the most from interns?

Everyone- from the intern to the staff to the friends of the intern- we find one good experience with one intern results in good will, good work and long term networking benefits.

Q. What are five words you would use to best describe interns?

A. Fast, eager, reliable, flexible and respectful

Q. How did your internship program get started?

We have always had student learners through colleges but I added interns because I feel strongly about building talented future health care professionals.  Someone has to take care of my generation!  Interns bring an energy and fresh perspective that keeps all of us on our toes.  My staff recently learned about new phone “apps” that really helped their efficiency! These moments are when I know the effort is all worthwhile.

Q. What is the most challenging part of supervising interns?

You have to match interns to staff who are interested in teaching and coaching.  It’s a disaster if the employee is not a willing spirit to the task.  But the agency has an obligation to create a worthwhile experience- supervising a busy intern is easier than one given less challenging and rewarding tasks.

Q. How do you use internships as a recruiting tool? 

We just do- interns will know about postings before ads are public- and we get to know if an intern has the right interest and talent making any permanent transition easier.

5 components of an internship learning contract

Students and adults in Rhode Island – who want to step up their experience, expand their resume, and make a difference – will pursue a learning internship. Employer-sponsored internships help them cross the bridge between learning and doing. 

Internships in Rhode Island secure learning experiences, references, and networking opportunities. With many unemployed applicants and many with little experience, employers look to interns to qualify good hires who will:

  • Bring talent to the table.
  • Increase productivity.
  • Increase employee retention potential.

There is a certain simplicity to internships in Rhode Island. If well structured, they set clear expectations and time-frames. Employers benefit from low-paid or un-compensated labor (although you must meet certain standards if you don’t pay your interns and we always recommend paying your interns if you can!); students and unemployed adults benefit from control of their futures. 

Five components of learning contracts for internships in Rhode Island

  1. Basic Information: All contracts begin with name, contact information, dates, and other info. Internships will emphasize what the compensation is (pay, academic credit or both). 
  2. Objectives: Contracts qualify potential new hires and their academic goals. It is not a labor contract or independent contractor agreement. 
  3. Location: Agreement identifies location, supervisor, and contact information.
  4. Approval: Employer and student must agree on objectives. Schools, internship coordinator, and the company or organization have obligations to the intern – in principle and law.
  5. Recourse: Companies, schools, and students or unemployed adults need to have some understanding of options if objectives fail. 

Why offer internships?

Internships supply the employer with a set of ambitious and passionate hands. Interns bring energy and talents that employers value – even while they help the intern develop skills, competencies, and workplace values.

Identify objectives

Planning puts a calendar on hopes and dreams. The most ambitious interns seed their futures with triggers, moments that will move them forward. Contracts should address the intern’s questions:

  • How will this internship help me in 5(10) years?
  • What do I bring to the employer and whom do I want to impress?
  • What specifically will make me marketable?
  • Am I ready for hard work and sacrifice?

The intern’s place in the business

The contract needs to identify the intern’s place – in more ways than one.

  • The intern role assigned may be a lesser role than the student expects, or it may be over his/her head. How interns handle that is important to them and to the employer. 
  • The employer’s goals and expectations are just as important as the intern’s are. If there is a conflict, it makes sense to get it right from the beginning. 
  • Internship coordinators can help match interns with the right opportunity and employer. The coordinators understand that most of the supervisors willing to mentor interns are vested in their professions and consider it part of their profession to do their best.

Agreement approval

It is easier for the intern to work when there is common ground on everyone’s expectations.  

  • The work duties and tasks should be clear. This should include learning experiences and “busy” work – from running errands to photocopying, from answering phones to getting coffee, from sweeping floors to cooking on line. Just remember if you are not paying your intern, there are certain regulations you must follow for how much “busy” work the intern should be assigned. The internship provides apprenticeship in an environment where an intern can work under the mentorship of professionals.

Last recourse

  • Internship agreements often include hold harmless claims, restrictions on intern behavior, the protection of confidential business information, and rules on absenteeism and termination. 

Internships in Rhode Island are exceptional career opportunities for the interns – and the small to large business owners, the HR managers to the internship coordinators, and the willing supervisors and department heads. There are few arrangements that benefit student and employer so well. 

Q&A with three employers offering internships

Do you ever wonder how other businesses and organizations use interns? What are their experiences and what do they got out of it? Mark J. Trovato, Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Attorney General, Tim Shayer, HR Director at Dr. Day Care / Kids Klub, and Becky Blaine, Practice Manager at South County Artificial Limb & Brace all weight in on their experience using interns.

Q. What is the best reason you host interns at your organization?

A. “Educational opportunities for the up and coming workforce. Also, SCALB is in the midst of experiencing business growth and a need for hiring 2 employees.” – Becky Blaine

A. “Interns are assigned to the Washington County Criminal Division out of Providence.  Interns are hosted for the purpose of teaching young people about the criminal justice system while utilizing their skills to assist our staff.” – Mark Trovato

A. “To provide the intern with practical on the job applications in the early childhood/school age field.” – Tim Shayer

Q.  What are the top ways your organization benefits from interns?

A. “Interns assist the support staff with clerical duties and prosecutors with writing assignments.” – Mark Trovato

A. “On occasion, we have hired volunteer interns upon completing their internship.” – Tim Shayer

A. “We just recently hired an intern as receptionist/office assistant in a full time position.” – Becky Blaine

Q. What is the most challenging part of structuring an internship program?

A. “With the first internship dedication of time to create a “job description” and creation of how to make the short amount of time allowed into a meaningful, real-life working experience. i.e. 5 hours/week for youth school internship.” – Becky Blaine

A. “Coordinating the interns academic schedule with the center; transportation issues.” – Tim Shayer

A. “The most challenging part of structuring an internship program is providing the interns with duties that are commensurate to their skill level.” – Mark Trovato

Q. Have you have a favorite intern? What about that person most impressed you?  

A. “Two, in fact.  Their apparent enthusiasm to want to learn all about the unique services we provide. And their gratefulness for having had the opportunity to participate in the program.” – Becky Blaine

A. “Our favorite intern is always our current intern.” – Mark Trovato

Q. Do you pay your interns? Why or why not?

A. “Yes. We reimburse students wages when working hours beyond what the internship program allows.” – Becky Blaine

A. “Generally, no.  Most of our interns are here as a result of college coursework requirements.” – Tim Shayer

A. “To my knowledge the State does not pay interns.” – Mark Trovato

Q. Who do you think benefits the most from interns?

A. “I believe the intern benefits the most as the experience exposes them to a profession they might not otherwise see.  This opportunity could influence their decision to pursue a legal career or to choose another path.”

A. “All of us.” – Becky Blaine

Q. What are five words you would use to best describe interns?

A. “Challenging, valuable, opportunity, experience, goals” – Becky Blaine

A. “Energetic, capable, conscientious, eager, funny.” – Mark Trovato

Q. How did your internship program get started?

A. “The internship program with the Attorney General has been in place as long as I can remember and the origins are unknown.” – Mark Trovato

A. “Through the State of Rhode Island’s Governor’s Workforce Board – Express Grant and the knowledge of the grant availability brought into our company by our practice manager.” – Becky Blaine

Q. What is the most challenging part of supervising interns?

A. “Depending on the intern – patience, teaching work ethics and accountability.”- Becky Blaine

A. “Keeping the interns busy at all times.” – Mark Trovato

Q. How do you use internships as a recruiting tool?

A. “A huge opportunity to “test-drive” a potential hire as in our current situation i.e. rapid growth = need for 2 employees in the capacity of a receptionist/office assistant and an orthotic/prosthetic technician.  Happy to report we have hired our receptionist/office assistant through a School Year Youth Internship.” – Becky Blaine

Student Perspective: Hannah Nauen, Program Development and Management Intern

Hannah Nauen, Brown University class of 2014, interned at the Rhode Island Afterschool Plus Alliance. Below, she gives her perspective on the experience. 

“My internship at the Rhode Island Afterschool Plus Alliance was an amazing experience that shaped my future career choices and perspective on education. I think I had a truly unique summer because RIASPA is a very small nonprofit with only three full-time employees (plus one intern- me!); however, it is housed within the United Way of RI, which is a very large nonprofit with diverse goals and a large number of employees. RIASPA deals with a very specific issue: learning loss during out-of-school time (or OST), whether that be summer or after school. United Way focuses on assisting low-income individuals with housing, education, income, and general information through the 211 help line. My summer internship allowed me to focus on RIASPA’s “main issue” while using the resources of the United Way’s large office and meeting a lot of new people.

Another exciting aspect of my internship was its scope. RIASPA, as can be inferred by its title, deals with out-of-school and afterschool issues on a state-wide level. Though this internship is titled Impact Providence, I was lucky to have the opportunity to work closely with summer learning providers from around Rhode Island, and even visit summer learning programs in towns and cities such as Newport, Middletown, Cranston, West Warwick, Woonsocket, and Pawtucket. I traveled around the state with my supervisor Joseph Morra and was able to get a real sense of the education field in Rhode Island as a whole. This experience made me more appreciative of the small size of Rhode Island (small but mighty) and let me gain understanding not just of people and needs “off the hill”, but also outside Providence. Of course, I worked in Providence a lot (the United Way office is in Olneyville), but I enjoyed being able to learn about the needs of other communities in Rhode Island.

I would absolutely accept this internship again, and I think it would a valuable experience for any Brown student interested in education. In fact, I am very fortunate to be able to continue my work at RIASPA over the next semester and possibly the next year. My supervisors Adam and Joseph (along with our coworker Michelle, a Brown graduate) offered me a paid part-time internship for the next semester. I am so excited to continue working for RIASPA; I really felt that my supervisors valued my work and I was able to contribute substantively. I learned a lot about learning loss and the importance of keeping students engaged during OST. If you had asked me before this summer if I believed in making sure students learn all year round, I might have said something about summer break being a much-needed vacation. However, after reading the data about learning loss in math and reading, I understand the importance of engaging students in new and creative ways during their summer vacations and afterschool time. I can’t wait to keep working with RIASPA next semester.”

Attract top talent: How to write an engaging internship description

Internships in Rhode Island can be beneficial to both employees and employers. When it comes to the benefits employers receive from hiring good interns the positives outweigh the negatives.  Knowing as an employer what you expect from an intern and creating a  job description that expresses the these needs can make all the difference in finding the best intern for your company.

How To Create a Great Internship Description

Know what you want and need – As an employer you need to know what you are looking for in an intern before you start interviewing.  Decide on what duties the intern will do, which kind of educational opportunities you can provide them, and how heavy of a workload you will assign to them.  Knowing these things up front will help you find the right intern to meet your needs.  It will also help future interns decide whether they are willing and able to take on these specific tasks saving both your company and future interns from wasting valuable time.

Creating a Comprehensive List

Here are some elements employers will want to be clear on before advertising the internship. These elements will also be things you will want to place in the job description.

  • A descriptive position title.
  • Function and description of the specific department the intern will be working in.
  • The responsibilities and role of the intern including all jobs they may be assigned.
  • Skill and knowledge requirements.
  • A start and end date.
  • The times and days you will expect the intern to be present in the workplace.
  • Any opportunities you have to offer such as travel, benefits, education, etc.
  • The exact person or team that the intern will report to.

When an employer is creating a list of duties for an intern position they should be as specific as possible. From making copies to creating advertisements, by providing specifics you will be in a better spot to find an intern that is ready to work for, and explore the same type of opportunities you can offer.

How to Attract Interns that are Seeking Specific Opportunities

Provide the right opportunities – When an intern applies for a position they are looking to gain experience and gain knowledge in skills that will benefit their academic major and degree.  If you do not have the right match between opportunities you can offer, and what the intern needs, you will find that an intern may quickly become unmotivated, and you may find yourself worse off than if you were not to hire an intern at all. By letting intern candidates know what they seek to gain from giving their time to your company, you give them a clear idea of what they can expect to gain in both job skills and education.  Express this in the job description by stating a detailed learning objective.

 Additional ways your description may represent Internships in Rhode island for your company.

  • An intern job description may be the only method that potential candidates can get a feel for your organization and brand through.
  • Expectations can be set from the beginning if a description that describes the full requirements in as much detail as possible is provided.
  • A company’s internship job description should explain the culture of both the work environment and the type of student that will work well in the company.

Knowing what you expect from an intern and putting this knowledge into the internship job description will give you a better chance of finding the right intern to match your company’s needs.