A Case for the Association Summer Internship

Associations that want to develop the next generation of talented association staffers should consider starting an association-wide internship program.

In our daily news meetings here at Associations Now, we talk a lot about how associations are working to draw talent to their respective industries in various ways. And, believe me, associations are extremely creative and dedicated to that work.

For instance, in order to introduce landscape architecture as a career option to the next generation, the American Society of Landscape Architects launched a print supplement aimed at kids. In another example, the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association deployed a multimedia initiative focused on bringing more millennials into the workforce. Some associations, such as the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association, have also started internship programs with the hope of building awareness about the trade among high school students.

But even while associations are working to build up their own industries with the finest future professionals, shouldn’t they also be raising up the next generation of talented association staffers? The Society for Human Resource Management’s SVP of Membership and External Affairs Bob Carr thinks so.

“Associations compete for talent just like any other sector—whether it’s government or business—and we’ve got to do a better job of exposing young people and students to what a career in associations could look like, so that we’re getting the best and brightest people right when they finish school,” Carr said.

To that end, SHRM launched a broad-based association internship program this summer. Although SHRM has offered paid internships in specific departments, such as IT, for years, this is the first time that it has offered an internship that exposes the intern to the wide array of work that the association does, from conferences and symposia to government affairs.

“The nice thing about working for an association is that you’re exposed to a multitude of functions,” Carr said. “Association work, in my mind, is the best of a lot of different work—whether it’s business, whether it’s government, whether it’s societal good—you can do all of those things at associations.”

Still, designing the program had its challenges, Carr said. For instance, SHRM’s internship program exposes its intern to advocacy, communications, member engagement, and executive outreach and networking, so it was important to assign point persons in each of those departments who would be responsible for helping deliver a meaningful experience to the intern. It was also important that the intern could step into such a wide array of responsibilities.

Even writing the internship’s job description had its obstacles, since it required creating a composite of both the wide-ranging work of the association and skills needed for the summer internship. (See yellow sidebar above for more details on that.)

Still, Carr said that all of the association’s efforts have been worth it. SHRM’s current intern—Spencer Manners, a student at George Washington University—has already done everything from helping in the press room at SHRM’s annual meeting in New Orleans, to attending a congressional hearing where one of SHRM’s members was testifying, to writing a press release about the launch of SHRM’s Northern California chapter. SHRM also has six other paid summer interns, who work in specific departments.

Carr, who has worked in associations for 25 years, is like many association professionals in that he fell into association work after jobs in other sectors, such as education and government.  “I had no idea that I would have a career in associations and that the work would be so gratifying,” Carr said. “I just think it’s important, that we as association professionals, give young people the opportunity to know about association work.”

And one way associations can do that is through internships.


Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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