Creating Internships with Value | Sports Destination Management

Creating Internships with Value

Jul 01, 2022 | By: Dr. Bonnie Tiell, Kellie McGilvray

Many industries continue to experience a shortage of employees, particularly at an entry level, despite the work world slowly returning to normal following the widespread economic damage from COVID-19. In response, organizations and properties are grappling with finding innovative ways to attract talent to fill frontline and other staff positions that don’t require an abundance of technical skills or experience. Well-designed internship programs are viable opportunities for entry-level staffing solutions.

The goal of an internship is to assist the college student with gaining pre-graduation fieldwork experience in a professional practice area relevant to the student’s career objectives and major. The goal is to allow students to showcase the material they have learned in the classroom and apply it to their chosen field. It is a common tool to develop talent in the sports, hospitality, entertainment and tourism industries.

Since an internship is considered “temporary,” it is sometimes difficult for organizations to justify having interns or internship programs. However, supervisors understand that the greatest benefit of a program is when the part-time experience results in a full-time position for an individual who has proven his or her worth.

Internships, primarily occupied by college students or recent graduates, provide firsthand, practical experience in a professional environment. The benefits of well-designed experiential learning opportunities are apparent for the student, his or her host institution and the sponsoring organization. To maximize the advantages of an internship arrangement, the sponsoring agency should begin by assessing its organizational goals and staffing capacity for supporting a relatively inexperienced labor pool. Following are five guidelines that can add value to an internship program and potentially lead to minimizing entry-level staffing issues.

Plan, Define And Publicize Internship Opportunities

Photo © Designer491 |

After assessing the organization’s goals and staffing capacity, developing internships with value begins with designing detailed position descriptions, setting deadlines for applications and sharing opportunities with a wide audience. Well-defined job descriptions are valuable for candidates to understand the scope of the experience while also serving to save the organization time in knowing exactly what the intern will be working on and what the structure of his or her responsibilities will be.

These details minimize intern attrition by clarifying components of the appropriate fit between the applicant and the organization. The job description also serves as a blueprint for developing the corresponding job announcement to publicize the opportunity. It includes the position title, responsibilities, application deadline and process to apply. To the extent possible in consideration of budgetary restrictions, announcements should be shared on digital and traditional marketing platforms such as printed newspapers, e-list serves, search engines, social media and college job boards.

The Walt Disney Company has continued to refine its highly successful internship program and has built such a reputation that applications are now accepted only twice a year. The meticulous effort in planning, defining, redefining and publicizing opportunities has led to demand being so high that Disney is only able to offer a small fraction of applicants an opportunity during each recruiting period.

Provide Incentives

Interns typically receive academic course credit toward graduation requirements. Not all internships need to be paid, especially if incentives are worth more for the intern’s future than a paycheck. However, organizations should be prepared to lose a potentially great candidate because he or she cannot afford to work for free, even in a situation that pays two-fold in terms of the experience gained.

For decades, the hospitality, sport, tourism and entertainment market has been so oversaturated that organizations could easily attract college students and recent graduates willing to work or intern for free out of desperation to get their proverbial foot in the door. The tide has since turned in the wake of the global pandemic resulting in more paid than non-paid internships, typically with benefits or incentives – even in service-related industries that have traditionally thrived on a free labor market. Organizations are becoming more creative to secure interns and benefits are becoming more common as a recruiting tool to incentivize top candidates to apply.

As indicated, paid internships are becoming the standard, especially as organizations adapt to the new normal (post-COVID). However, if an organization cannot offer a stipend or payment, they are challenged to attract quality candidates. Even when businesses have unique experiences to offer potential interns, they are at a disadvantage when they cannot offer compensation. Organizations in this position must be creative to recruit the best young talent willing to work without a paycheck. Occasionally, the value of incentives may even be worth more than any paycheck. Incentives may include:

• Free or affordable housing

• A flexible work environment with hours, days, and possible remote opportunities

• A membership to a local facility, health club or community organization

• Opportunities to build an online presence through social network sites within the industry

• Support for ongoing education through a course or certificate program

• Opportunities to attend a conference or trade show

• Invitation to department meetings or brainstorming sessions

• Event tickets

• Onsite professional development

• Meet and greets, as well as networking events

Collaborate on Goals and Assessments to Customize the Experience

Photo © Corepics Vof |

Interns who are treated as employees and who are provided with open communication channels are likely to rate their experience as highly satisfying. Collaborating with an intern to define his or her learning goals creates a more meaningful experience. Collaboration also allows the organization to project compassion for the interests of the protégé while being able to emphasize their own important and non-negotiable interests.

Customization refers to modification or alteration based on an individual’s expressed needs and interests. Customization may stem from altering a schedule (e.g., a compressed work week), changing location settings (e.g., different departments or remote vs. onsite), enhancing job duties or rotating supervisor reporting lines.

The Lake Erie Crushers, an independent baseball team in Northeast Ohio, exposes interns to several departments in the earliest part of the season before assigning them to an area that ranked among their top preferences. Similarly, the NFL headquarters offers a “highly selective” junior rotational program that exposes interns to a variety of office locations and departments over a two-year period. Although the NFL ultimately determines each appointment location, interns have input on preferences.

An important component in collaborating on the goals or outcomes of an internship program is to articulate how each one will be evaluated at the end of the experience. A well-defined assessment to define goals and outcomes can set the standards for performance expectations.

Emmanuel Olaseinde who works as an operations intern with the NFL Pittsburgh Steelers, praises the organization for creating an environment that “values everyone’s input, no matter where someone is on staff.” Olaseinde elaborated on the value of collaboration with department supervisors during weekly meetings to review the goals and progress of each intern. These meetings assist in customizing the internship experience which positively correlates with satisfaction and productivity.

Conduct a Standard Orientation and Exit Meeting

Event organizers and facility operators who throw interns into the fire without a standard orientation or training protocol are at a disadvantage. The orientation is an opportunity to convey an organization’s commitment to valuing the internship experience and establish the norms and standards for productivity. The benefits of orienting and training interns, which usually takes place annually or seasonally, mirror the benefits derived by entry-level employees who seek a sense of comfort with a new work environment.

Communication is crucial during the orientation stage, especially to clarify the specific roles and expectations of interns. For example, the Berkshire Soccer Academy for Girls, an elite summer sports camp in Otis, Massachusetts, includes all of its interns in the six-day pre-camp orientation which is mandatory for full-time and part-time employees. The orientation addresses safety, emergency preparedness, program preparation, youth development and team cohesion while also providing time for interns and staff to develop goals and priorities.

Exit interviews are also important in maximizing the value of internship programs. Much can be learned through the lens of experience and different perspectives. Requiring interns to reflect and communicate both positive and negative feelings and attitudes towards their involvement with an event or organization serves as an evaluation tool for continued improvement. Conducting and discussing a performance evaluation provides opportunities to provide the important professional development that interns seek from their experience. Additionally, it facilitates the exploration of ideas and suggestions to improve aspects of the organization, an event or the internship program.

Develop Pipelines

Curating a pipeline of quality interns from colleges with well-defined internship programs reduces the time and energy normally devoted to recruiting candidates. Personnel in sports, hospitality, entertainment and tourism benefit by developing and maintaining a relationship with internship coordinators from higher education institutions who serve as both informational resources and advocates for promoting opportunities.

Additionally, a well-developed relationship may result in the university preliminarily screening candidates for organizations (recommending only the most interested and qualified applicants) or recruiting volunteer staff for large events. For example, 2022 marked the 17th year Dr. Dexter Davis, Associate Professor of Sport Management at the University of Tennessee at Martin, has been associated with supervising student volunteers at the NFL Super Bowl. Davis has developed a relationship with the NFL league office which communicates with the organizing committee of each host city to recommend him as a trusted source for supplying staff for the on-location experience.

Well-designed internship programs have the potential to assist organizations and facilities to sustain a steady pipeline of trained, qualified and trusted entry-level workers. Organizations can create a referral system that will allow the intern to promote opportunities to other interns. More importantly, the internship can serve as a “tryout” where the best and brightest are routinely identified and provided opportunities for full-time employment.

When Molly Magill was enrolled in the Sport Management MBA program at Tiffin University, her mentorship with the California State Games evolved into a full-time position as the Marketing Manager, a position she held for several years before being hired as the Events and Promotions Manager for the NHL Arizona Coyotes.

Similarly, Joe Lofton served two years as a public relations intern for the NFL Pittsburgh Steelers before the franchise hired him full-time as the youth football coordinator. It is not uncommon for stadiums, teams and agencies involved with sport tourism to hire interns to fill full-time vacancies. Organizations that routinely groom interns to become employees save valuable time in the recruiting and screening process.

The sports, entertainment, hospitality and tourism industries have high turnover, especially at the entry level. Therefore, it is valuable for these industries to develop a pipeline of qualified entry-level employees and commit to a practice of curating interns for employment positions.

The Wrap-Up

A well-designed internship program can assist organizations in developing a more competitive edge and demand for attracting top talent. The five guidelines for creating internships with value are transferable to a multitude of industries. The guidelines emphasize components of well-designed internship programs that include planning and creating meaningful experiences, leveraging connections and resources to source candidates, conducting program evaluations and developing pipelines for future employment positions.

When events and facilities in the entertainment, sports, hospitality and tourism industries have high turnover or require massive numbers of temporary employees, internship programs serve to minimize staffing issues. However, providing incentives and compensation to interns in these industry sectors has replaced the plethora of outdated free labor programs.

On a final note, organizations benefit by considering both domestic and international students for internship opportunities, especially in the tourism industry. Interns or employees that are bilingual or fluent in several languages are an asset to promote diversity initiatives and potentially enhance customer service experiences. The bottom line is that although it is generally known that internships are valuable, effective planning, supervision and evaluation enhance the value to all stakeholders.  SDM

About the Author