Rethinking internships to drive diversity in corporate America

Image: pixabay

It used to be that internships were mostly about two things: getting coffee and making photocopies.

These days, an internship is an integral part of kick starting a career. Its a way to get a foot in the door, strengthen skills through hands-on work experience and gain exposure to a companys culture.

For most companies, intern candidates are largely sourced from the same talent pool recent grads or students enrolled in traditional, four-year colleges. But solely focusing on traditional recruitment channels means potentially losing out on talent with diverse perspectives that contribute to a stronger, healthier workforce.

“Its an amazing opportunity to be able to change your life in a year.” -Elias Woldemichael, Year Up alum

As part of its Future Edge initiative, Capital One is investing in partnerships with organizations like Year Up that give individuals the digital and technical skillset they need to succeed in the workforce and rethinking internships in the process. Interns arent simply assimilating into the Capital One culture, they enrich it. Building teams as diverse as the communities and customers it serves means the bank can offer better products, services, and customer experiences.

For the interns, Its an amazing opportunity to be able to change your life in a year, says Elias Woldemichael, a Jr. Software Engineer who completed the Year Up program and now works fulltime at Capital One in its cybersecurity group.

Image: Shutterstock / Rawpixel.com

A partnership worth investing in

Year Up, a national nonprofit whose mission is to close the opportunity divide in our country, offers a one-year, intensive training program that provides low-income young adults ages 18-24 with hands-on skills development, coursework eligible for college credit, and support at every step of the process. Year Up also connects its students with its partner companies, like Capital One, for internships.

Originally from Ethiopia, Elias was working as a valet when he first heard about the program.

Year Up gave me everything that I needed to get on top of my career the tools, the mentorship, the guidance, and the internship, he says.

The first six months of the program are a deep dive into the skills students will require to succeed in a corporate job. A big part of the focus is on soft skills, which includes things like being on time, dressing professionally, and how to conduct oneself at a meeting.

When speaking with graduates from the Year Up program, many echo the same thing: a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity.

Denyel Monroe, who works in Enterprise Technology Risk Management at Capital One and is also an alum of the Year Up program, is thankful for having someone who believed in her.

People see the potential you have in you, but you dont see it yourself, Denyel says.

When she first heard about Year Up, she was working three jobs and had dropped out of college. Financially, going to class wasnt feasible she needed to work in order to live.

While at Year Up she realized she had a passion for technology and thrust herself into her classes, soaking up all that she could. When she joined Capital One for her internship, her department was in the process of becoming an Agile group a methodology that allows teams to be self-organized and more efficient, and something that she had already learned in Year Up.

It meant that she entered an environment where she could immediately begin contributing and could even be a leader. From being the go-to email proofer for her team (thanks to her business communications class at Year Up) to instituting Feedback Fridays, she could take what she learned at Year Up and share it with her coworkers.

Denyel says that the combination of her classes and her internship helped to set her up for more than a job. Thanks to Year Up, she now has a career in a field that she loves.

With technology, as long as you have a passion to learn, you can learn it, Denyel says.

Before I got into Year Up, I was really intimidated by technology. But the way they taught it, and the collaborative and open environment they had it in, made it seem like it wasnt as hard as people think it is.

Looking back, its amazing for her to see how far shes come.

Now I can say that I truly live up to the potential that everyone else saw in me. It feels good, she says.

Diversity in the workplace

One of the key benefits to Year Ups approach to training and internships is that it brings people from diverse backgrounds into the workplace, including individuals who are often left behind by traditional recruitment channels.

Making sure an employee base represents the community a company serves is something thats really important.

Its also a smart financial move.

According to a recent McKinsey report titled Diversity Matters, Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

Whats more, diverse voices bring about diverse solutions and are crucial for fostering an innovative culture.

Image: Shutterstock / ESB Professional

Super human resources

The Year Up internship program has given Capital One access to talented, passionate employees who strive to learn and grow within the company, but its about more than that. Capital One made a conscious decision to not only host interns, but consider them for employment upon completion seeing the partnership as a true talent pipeline.

Quality Engineer Sandra Quel is one of those people.

When she started her internship, the team she joined was in the middle of a sprint and was doing work on the Capital One iPad app that was about to launch. Sandra jumped right in, asking lots of questions along the way.

I started learning everything I could, she says.

One of the coolest things she got to witness, she says, was working on detecting bugs within the app and then watching it launch without them. It was a poignant moment for her. She realized that because of her work, customers wouldnt have to face the headache of encountering those issues.

Once she saw the outcome of the hard work that shed put in, it made her realize that this was a career she wanted to pursue and a workplace she wanted to stay in.

Capital One felt the same way. Sandra was the first Year Up intern to get hired by Capital One and recently received a promotion the first alum to do so.

Paying it forward

Nyron Waite, a Field Service Technician for Capital Ones PowerUp Bars (an onsite tech support hub for Capital One Associates), says that the first day at an internship can be scary.

To go into a corporate office at 19, you dont know if you can fit into the culture, so it was very nerve wracking at the beginning, he says.

But thanks to the support of other alums, Year Up teachers, and his managers at Capital One, he got the guidance he needed and quickly felt at ease.

Now, hes passionate about serving as a mentor for others.

We take pride in our responsibility of helping the next people up, he says. It encourages me to see the next class. I always feel like not only do I want to give back, but I need to give back.

When Nyron looks back at everything the program has done for him, hes eager for others to have the same experience.

Its so amazing because they have the same ambition and belief that I had coming through. When I see that it really inspires me.

Key takeaways for employers

Since the partnership began in 2006, Capital One has supported Year Up both nationally and regionally including hosting groups of Year Up interns to visit the company and meet with executives, and having associates mentor Year Up interns. Forty-four Year Up grads have completed internships at Capital One, and 33 have been hired as full-time associates.

Our support for Year Up is about more than philanthropy its an important business solution, says Ken Kido, EVP, Retail Bank at Capital One and a former Year Up board member.

We have a real passion for supporting successful workforce development programs like Year Up that help train more individuals for current and future in-demand jobs helping to close the skills gap while increasing the diversity of our workforce.

Here are some ways that companies can learn from the Year Up internship model:

  • Emphasize the soft skills. Beyond rigorous technical and job-specific skills training, skills such as communication, creative thinking, and customer service are foundational for all workers success and critical for career progression.

  • Establish a mentorship program. Connect new employees with those who have been with the company longer. Not only does it bring people together, but it helps to create a sense of belonging and support that will extend throughout the team.

  • Drive cant be taught skills can. When you invest in people, you invest in the future. Not only theirs, but your companys too.

Watch next: You know those suspicious emails about jobs you didn’t apply for? This is what happens when you accept the job

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/06/21/rethinking-internships-to-encourage-diversity/