Internship experience helps students find employment

Green directional arrow with the word "Experience" in white letters
Friday, May 15, 2015 - 1:07pm
Blake Eligh

Entering the workforce after graduation can feel daunting, but for-credit internship programs are helping U of T Mississauga students gain hands-on experience, employable skills and an edge over the competition.

One of the many experiential learning programs offered to fourth-year students at UTM is the joint Geography, Environment and G.I.S. internship program. Run by geography professor Harvey Shear, senior lecturer Joe Leydon and associate professor Alan Walks, the 20-year-old program accepts 30 to 35 students every year.

The program works with over 50 employers to help students learn valuable on-the-job skills while earning a credit towards their degrees, and placing them with local employers, including not-for-profit organizations like the Canadian Diabetes Association and Climate’s Sake, private sector employers Numeris and Collier’s International, federal and provincial environment ministries and municipal partners such as the City of Mississauga, the Town of Oakville and the City of Brampton.

“Students pick up technical experience learning field techniques, or working with new software,” Shear says, but that practical knowledge is just part of what students will take away from the experience.

Between September and April, students work eight hours per week at internship placements, accumulating a total of 200 hours on the job by the end of the program. They also take several hours of classroom instruction where they learn important work-related skills such as resume writing, networking and how to develop a personal brand.

“Doing an internship makes them more disciplined and better time managers,” Shear says, but equally valuable are the career-building soft skills that come from participating in the workforce, often for the first time.

Students in the program record their experiences in monthly work logs and summarize them in an oral presentation at the end of the year. “It’s important for students to reflect on what they’ve learned,” Shear says. “We ask them, ‘What did you learn about yourself as a person in the workforce? Did you learn how to network? Did you figure out how to solve a problem when your supervisor wasn’t available?’ Those are important skills for young workers entering the workforce.”

woman with long dark hair smiling and leaning against a tree trunkNimesha Basnayaka just finished her internship placement. As part of her placement with Mississauga-based enviromental charity Climate's Sake, Basnayaka created a "tree caching" trail, a self-guided tour of tree species around the UTM campus. Basnayaka turned her placement into a full-time job with the organization. She recently began working with their "Planting for Change" program, which helps schools across Ontario teach students about the effects of climate change on trees and other vegetation.

Shear cautions that most students won’t land a job directly from their placement, but says the internship experience does distinguish participants from other new graduates when it comes time to apply for jobs. “We know that employers see the internship as an indicator that this person is serious about their career,” Shear says. “Interns have a definite advantage over other candidates applying for work after graduation.”