Despite benefits high school interns bring businesses, barriers remain to expanding opportunities

A majority of employers say high school interns strengthen their industry pipeline as a whole, but challenges remain in managing a high school internship program, according to a recent survey of 500 employers representing small, midsize and large businesses.

The report, Building Bridges Between Education and Industry: Youth Work-Based Learning as Talent Development Strategy, was released May 7 by American Student Assistance (ASA) — a national nonprofit that advocates for equitable access to career readiness information and experiences.

“Given the small increase in the number of businesses offering high school internships — from 30 percent in 2018 to 38 percent five years later — scaling equitable access to real-world experiences is critically important,” said Julie Lammers, ASA senior vice president of Advocacy and Corporate Social Responsibility. “Doing so will help many more young people prepare for future success and provide industry with the skilled workforce needed to maintain global competitiveness amid rapidly changing economies and labor markets.”

Overall, 86 percent of employers agreed that having high school-aged interns was good for business. More specifically, 81 percent said they filled their employment pipeline with diverse candidates due to internships, about 78 percent said they enhanced their diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, 77 percent said they used interns to build the pipeline for entry-level positions, and 65 percent said interns reduced the workload of their full-time employees.

However, 43 percent reported difficulty in determining work best suited for them, 42 percent said it was a challenge to attract qualified interns, and 39 percent said scheduling around interns’ availability posed issues as well. Other commonly cited issues included many interns lacking transportation to the workplace, too few staff resources to manage interns and a limited funding for an internship program.

Industry and education leaders can address some of these issues by collaborating to offer work-based learning programs, while businesses should boost their talent development strategies, according to the report.

The report found that many businesses are already finding solutions like using state funding to subsidize intern pay and developing other work-based learning activities such as career fairs, mentorship opportunities, job shadowing, apprenticeships, informational interviews, field trips, open house days, classroom presentations and career-related competitions.

Businesses should encourage policymakers to take steps to improve and expand internship opportunities by reducing barriers to youth work-based learning. The report recommends industry partners advocate for policymakers to:

  • Offer tax credits or wage subsidies to offset costs on the employer side
  • Encourage businesses to partner with schools to offer work-based learning opportunities
  • Provide funding for and/or establish intermediaries that can alleviate much of the administrative and logistical burdens associated with running a high school internship program