IDEA #35. Find a local business that will let you volunteer as an “intern” or helper. Even if you don’t wind up doing much important work, what can you learn about the business and about how people work?
Internships are increasingly a standard part of the professional planning phase of collegiate life, but the opportunity to spend some real time in a workplace setting is above all a chance for younger people to come to an understanding of how actual work is carried out in the adult world.
Schoolteachers are constantly reminding students that certain kinds of behavior will not pay off in the “real world,” and children are accustomed to living in a more or less authoritarian environment. What better way can there be to see both how adults behave in the workplace and how decisions are made and implemented in the adult world than by observing real work?
Not all businesses will welcome young volunteers, and some may simply say no. The age of the child (probably no one under twelve or thirteen should even consider this activity) and his or her level of responsibility—perhaps attested to in a written recommendation from a teacher or principal—will have a bearing on what kinds of opportunities open up, and patience may be necessary. Issues of hazard and confidentiality may also arise and should be thoroughly discussed by parents or guardians in advance.
An ideal situation would have the youngster tagging along with a particular individual who is not unhappy to have a young sidekick and who will have the patience and interest to explain and answer questions. For children on the younger side the old “take your child to work day” concept may be a good way to start, as long as the parent or guardian is able to perform his or her job with a child at hand and as long as the employer is not averse to this arrangement.
Among the valuable lessons students tend to learn from internships is that not every job is suitable for every person; some students find out just how much they do NOT want to work in certain kinds of environments. On the whole, however, most youngsters find some exposure to a real work setting to be of great interest and great value, and the thinking child will find much food for cogitation as he or she observes adult work in action.