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Practicums and Internships in Start-ups

While both gain academic credit, internships are more full time experiences while the practicum gets a ‘taste’ of working in a specific industry.

Global Influencer

Global Influencer
Global Influencer

I was lecturing my MBA Graduate students at the New York Institute of Technology (Vancouver Campus) today and was approached by four of them who asked if I was doing a Spring Semester practicum. I gave them a resounding – yes!

I’ve been with the NYIT as an Adjunct Professor for only a year but I have also supervised eight successful student practicums. It’s very exciting for me because these grad students are bright, knowledgeable and want to gain Canadian work experience.

Some have advanced degrees from their home countries and ‘require’ a North American degree to gain entry to more prestigious schools or positions in the USA.The work experience with Canadian start-ups and mid level businesses is sought after for their entrepreneurial mentality and a more rewarding hands-on real-life experience.

I like to call my people practicum students versus interns because of the backlash over the past couple of years regarding unpaid intern positions offered by large corporations for what amounted to servitude. While corporations like Google may pay interns a $9000 signup bonus and $45USD per hour that is the exception rather than the rule. Interns have always been considered free labor to be treated as if they know nothing – yikes!

Practicum students differ from internships in a number of ways. Practicum students, from my perspective, may be placed with a start-up or smaller corporation and take on small projects or assist professionals in their daily work.

Internship tends to be more focused on the application of real skills and knowledge in a workplace environment on a full time basis for a period of time. The nuances are debateable. Interns have been the subject of recent observations that they were no more than unskilled workers being taken advantage of by employers.

In contrast my students actually pay tuition to be placed in a practicum environment. While meant to observe and document how working professionals perform their jobs, they participate to a limited extent in the operations of the business or specific projects under my supervision.

I’ve carefully selected corporations I know personally who are keen to take on my grad students for a semester. It’s a win-win situation where low-level projects are revived and completed or project weary employees are augmented. The students work a flexible 6 hours a week and are able to put a Canadian job reference on their resume.

Last semester three students learned all about crypto currencies and blockchain while two others learned AGILE project management methodology and software development. In their minds experiential learning is far better than earning a minimum wage as a paid intern.

While my practicum students can be considered interns under the law; meaning they are ‘part of a program approved by a secondary school board, college, or university’ internships in general have been disapproved of in recent years.

Some corporation were utilizing interns as job replacements and taking advantage of a young person wanting to learn the ropes at a big corporation hoping to prove themselves and be hired once their internship ended. When I heard from one senior manager, “they should be paying us for the privilege of working here”, I realized how careful selection, a schedule of only a few hours a week (equal to what they would spend on one of my classes) plus being only one semester in length would not open them to the abuse of that kind of manager.

I’ve come to realize that start-ups are a better place for them to learn versus a big corporation. I’ve seen the big company scenario with students relegated to running errands and doing tedious work that had them begging to cancel the practicum.

Start-ups on the other hand treated them with respect and the students saw how good leaders pivoted their business, kept them in the decision-making loop and gave them an insight into what it is like to run a business in bootstrap mode.

Under the right circumstances practicums and internships are beneficial to the student. While both gain academic credit, internships are more full time experiences while the practicum gets a ‘taste’ of working in a specific industry.

When I first starting calling my friends and acquaintances, and sometimes clients, asking to take a couple of practicum students I got the “but I don’t know what I would do with them” response. I now have companies outside my circle calling me about taking a student or two. The word has spread that keen students can contribute to the start-up, often lift up the employees they work alongside and how exuberance is infectious.

I love my Millennials, they give me hope!

Gary is CEO of Bizzo Management Group Inc. in Vancouver. He has mentored over 1000 business leaders, investors and entrepreneurs. London-based Richtopia placed Bizzo on the Top 100 Global Influencers in the World for 2018.

AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon should be turning the volume up. Their current quiet murmur is just not enough.