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College Students and the New Apprentice Economy

October 26, 2011

Back in the old days of labor unions and skilled craftsmanship, there was a clear ascension to the ranks of the employable: emerging talent would serve as an apprentice, thoroughly developing a specific trade or skill.

Here we go again… welcome to Apprentice Economy Version 2.0.

Many blogs and major articles, including posts on YouTern, have pointed out that a college degree no longer equates to a job offer. As the economy settles into new realities, employers are expecting more of candidates than a fresh education and little experience.

College students are already responding by adding internships as a compulsory component of their college experience. According to NACE, over the past decade or two the college students that have completed an internship have increased from 10% to over 70%. Taking this trend a step further, many students have increased the number of internships they complete, believing that to be competitive the norm has become at least three career-relevant internships during their college career.

The New Rule: One Internship per Year in College

In the good old days (say, five years ago?) one internship prior to your senior year was considered a major win – and placed you far ahead of your competition in the post-graduation job market. At YouTern, we’re now seeing sophomores, freshmen – and even high school seniors – begin their search for critical internships.

The goal: one high-quality internship per year.

As one future job seeker said on Twitter: “If I don’t get a bunch of internships, I’ll be one of the guys waiting tables just to pay my student loans.”

Quality Over Quantity

In our Apprentice Economy 2.0, it isn’t about having 15 internships by the time you graduate – especially when you count week-long temp positions as an “internship”.

Much more important to recruiters is the quality of the internships, your direct contributions – and how much you learned from the experience. Even in a bad internship, the latter is incredibly important; sometimes we get a PhD in what not to do. When properly articulated, the lessons learned are highly valued by potential employers.

Relevance is Key

Internships within your chosen career path not only show experience; but to a recruiter, they display a level commitment and confidence. Even some of us workforce veterans (this author included) have taken a turn or two while establishing our professional lives. This change of direction occurs quite often with emerging talent, especially those relying on higher education as their major influencer before entering the workforce.

In many cases, an internship becomes a final test. To both you and the recruiter, internships validate your career choice. Perhaps your degree is in marketing, but you’ve been bitten by the entrepreneur bug? Much better to discover your passions early, and change course sooner rather than later – leaving much more time to apprentice in your “final answer” (for now) career path.

Does that mean your previous marketing internships now don’t count? Not at all. We take away meaningful elements from each experience: developing work ethic, improving soft skills, networking, accruing recommendations, and much more.

Mentorship a Critical Factor

Even with a famous brand, including Fortune 100 companies, a recruiter attuned to the Apprentice Economy is going to want to know who you worked with – and ask about your take-aways.

Were you coach-able? Did you offer leadership in a reverse mentor role where maybe you taught more experienced colleagues a critical skill from your experience set? Did any of your one-on-one working relationships evolve into a full-blown mentorship, where the mentor has now become a champion of your career?

In every internship, it is critical to seek out a potential mentor. You’ll greatly improve the quality of the internship – and go a long way toward impressing future employers. After all, you’ll be the candidate talking about how important your mentor has become – versus the one that complains on Facebook about their boring intern role. Which candidate would you hire?

As you take an objective look at your time in college, isn’t your ultimate goal to become employable? To develop a meaningful career that follows your professional passion?

Embrace the new Apprentice Economy – and, through internships, become a craftsman well before your entrance into the workforce.

Deltasig has partnered with YouTern to showcase high-quality, mentor-based internships at entrepreneur-driven companies and non-profits – and the best career development blog in the business. YouTern is honored to support our goals in career development – and equally proud to donate a percentage of all proceeds to the Delta Sigma Pi Leadership Foundation.

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