By Jamie Titcomb, Town Manager Ocean Ridge
During my 20-plus years in public service positions, I’ve always been a passionate advocate for utilizing our best hidden asset we have right in our communities: our bright, motivated, earnest and energetic youth! They are all around us, in our high schools, colleges and vocational/technical programs. How many conference meetings have our discussions explored who will replace greying administrations, retain institutional knowledge and where do we find the talent to staff and lead new directions, ideas and delivery of quality local governance operations?
Historically we may not have done enough to extoll the virtues of and promote career opportunities in the public service sector. Local government is not only an exciting career option for youth to pursue; but an overarching field with few limits. Every community has departments, operations, assets and unique points of interest that dovetail nicely into almost any educational area of interest to pursue. We merely need to better connect the dots. A good start is to contact your local high schools, community colleges and universities. Many of them have internship programs in place and formalized with well-established rules and protocols. Generally speaking in labor law, you have an obligation to pay employees for work performed; however, there are provisions to allow for work in return for academic credit and other considerations. Check with your HR department, labor attorney and/or a local educational institution’s program criteria to be applied.
Think of an Internship as a “win-win” proposition, with things each party wants and needs helping to resolve some old adages such as: “How do I get experience when no one will give me a chance to learn and show what I can do? We need extra help for our short-term project, but can’t find someone willing to work on that basis. How do I get real-world experience to show on my resume while I’m still in school? I’m not sure what to pursue for my major, how do I decide?”…and so on.
The best answers may come from participating in a local government internship! Think about it; wherever one’s interest falls: recreation, environmental, grounds-keeping, mechanical trades, information technical systems, communications to community services and social issues, economic development and housing, finance, law, police, fire, executive administration and working on formation of important public policy for legislative development tracks, it can be found in local governments. These and many other disciplines are all lanes open for every interest; yet rarely does a young adult connect the dots in their guidance sessions, unless someone shows them the pathways of opportunity. Government too often is presented in monolithic terms, rarely dissected to the basic moving parts.
So there are simple steps to get a program started in your city. You can start by picking a program in existence that matches needs of your community as offered through a local educational or civic organization. You can sign up a third-party managed program and watch good candidates line up for the opportunity. Alternatively, you can establish your own program and criteria to make your workplace an ideal part-time spot for a bright, up-and-coming youth in your town to participate in developing their skills for future careers, while providing the local government some extra hands on deck for time-critical and special projects, without long-term commitment of a new hire. Treat your program criteria like you would any other position to fill in town, identifying a need, parameters of engagement and the logistics necessary for deploying and managing a new “raw” talent you are putting into town hall or department.
Yes, there is extra time and supervisory attention that must be anticipated to accommodating interns in the workforce, but it is time well spent and an investment in your own community. We talk so much about succession planning and developing great talent to help lead and manage the future, to pick up where we leave off… what better way than to engage, teach, mentor and most importantly provide a basic opportunity to emerging talented youth that reside right under your nose. You may find the “old guard” learns something from the millennial-digital generation, a livened up workplace, a flow of fresh ideas and new attitudes to apply to resolving old issues. Young people today are computer savvy, results oriented and eager to get started along a path for their own career success, while they’re demonstrably involved in their community betterment
Like most situations a good “fit” is important, aligning personality traits and talents of coworkers and intern candidates with appropriate assignments and projects intended for extra assistance to achieve optimal outcomes. The short term duration of intern engagements allow both parties opportunity to “try before you buy.” After internship, some participants move on to other fields and career path choices, richer for the opportunity and experience you’ve given them, with a bonus resume line item of real-world and relative experience. The city has realized benefits, too.
When the talents of an intern are symbiotic and strong with your mission, the results often land them a full-time job opportunity or viable long-term career paths upon completion of their studies. I know this first hand. I’ve hired interns as a result of their good work and contributions to the workplace. There are plenty of programs, websites and white papers on the rules and opportunities to plug in this under-tapped quality help, while providing a unique learning experience and career path program that invests in the future of the community at the same time.
Your local schools, FCCMA, ICMA, Florida League of Cities and other prominent community organizations can help you get started, so it’s up to you! It’s easy to spot the enthusiasm, motivation and interests that exude from this generation. Why not harness it through an internship position that is win-win for all involved!