How many programs boast the ability to boost a credit union’s reputation in its community, deepen connections with local colleges and universities, and develop relationships with students and parents?
For SECU of Maryland ($2.8B, Linthicum, MD), its college internship program meets those criteria and more.
With the help of Roderic Flowers — SECU’s vice president of human resources development and adjunct professor of organizational theory and behavior at McDaniel College in Westminster, MD —the credit union created a college internship in 2005 to encourage interest in financial services careers and recruit talented employees before they leave the area.
Roderic Flowers, VP Human Resources Development, SECU of Maryland
“We need to reach out to the schools while [the students] are still young,” Flowers says. “Many have misconceptions about credit unions. We want to debunk the myths.”
Heavy On Experience, Light On Coffee
Ideally, an internship is supposed to provide professional education and experience as well as emphasize on-the-job training. SECU’s does just that.
Interns, who range from high school seniors to graduate students, earn $11 to $14 an hour based on educational level and work 30 hours per week for four to six weeks during the summer, starting in June.
SECU typically brings in five interns at a cost of approximately $2,000 each. Flowers, working with department managers matches each intern to a department based on what areas interest and fit with their personality and skill set. Importantly, these interns are at SECU to learn and work, not fetch coffee or schlep for their supervisors.
CU QUICK FACTS
secu of maryland
data as of 12.31.14
HQ: Linthicum, MD
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 3.86%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 5.92%
“If they can help out with some menial task, that’s fine, but that’s not the idea,” Flowers says. “It’s really a learning experience.”
Interns work in one of five areas — lending, marketing, HR, finance, and retail banking — and responsibilities vary by department. All interns complete the credit union’s onboarding process and attend classes in business etiquette and resume writing internally, at what credit union refers to as SECU University. Other professional duties include performing administrative tasks such as filing or helping in the storage room and completing a departmental project or assignment approved by Flowers and two HR assistant vice presidents.
Past interns have improved the credit union’s social media presence by creating messages and posts that better connect with and appeal to young adults.
If they can help out with some menial task, that's fine, but that's not the idea. It's really a learning experience.
Of course, financial institutions are complicated businesses. And although interns are placed in retail banking, SECU does not allow an inexperienced intern to interfere with its business operations or member experience.
“It’s hard to place an intern into the branch because they don’t know our products and services,” Flowers says. “We introduce them, we have them engage with our employees, and we run them through training. They can see our video tellers and our contact center, but we limit their exposure in the branches.”
At the end of the internship, interns must create a presentation on the meaningfulness of their experience. By then, Flowers hopes interns will have a greater appreciation of the credit union movement. Some might even want to join it as a full-time employee.
To this end, SECU sometimes asks past interns to stay on with the credit union after the program concludes. For example, an employee from the HR department was hired full-time while he was still in college and has now been with the credit union for 10 years.
Marketing And Partnerships
SECU’s internship program has allowed the credit union to cut back on temporary employees and contractors, which saves the institution money.
But there are two sides to that coin. The internship has also become a recruitment tool at local schools, which has helped the credit union identify strong full-time candidates. It was this recruitment potential that prompted C-level decision-makers to approve the program in the first place.
“Once I could explain how we were going to pay for it, how it related to recruitment, and how it was a goodwill gesture to the community, the buy-in wasn’t that difficult,” Flowers says.
flowers' internship best practices
One: "Make sure that there is the buy-in and support from the CEO and senior management, so that you are not just bringing in kids over the summer to do grunt work."
Two: "Make sure that you build into the internship criteria meaningful work that aligns back to organizational objectives and business priorities. Additionally, make sure that there is an education component."
Three: "Make sure it's fun. Remember it's during the summer. They’re working but they should realize that at work you can have fun too. We try to build in some fun, as well as some downtime for them to attend other social events."
SECU’s state charter permits it to operate ATMs across Maryland and at many of the colleges and universities therein. Deeper partnerships with the first-, second-, and seventh-largest institutions in terms of number of students — University of Maryland University College, University of Maryland-College Park, and Towson University, respectively — allows the cooperative to market its internship at job fairs and open houses as well as place marketing materials in school career placement offices.
Despite its formal outreach and additional support from word-of-mouth marketing among students, the number of internship applications has declined in post-recession. It received 30 to 40 applicants in 2014, of which approximately half were serious candidates, according to Flowers.
Internship applications may have declined for several reasons, Flowers says. First, many companies eliminated internship programs during the recession, leading young adults to find different entry-level positions. That misconception toward the unavailability of internships may not have dissipated. Second, qualified applicants might not be aware of SECU’s April internship application deadline. They’re looking for summer work after the credit union’s internship has already started.
“We work with the schools so they can post [about the internship] and make sure the parents know as well,” Flowers says. “But it’s a struggle.”
Going forward, SECU and Flowers would like to see both the quantity and quality of applications perk back up. By placing information in state university career placement offices, and using word-of-mouth advertising from former interns and current employees, the credit union aims to find the next generation of credit union employee.
“The internship is a matter of goodwill, but it’s also part of our recruitment,” Flowers says. “This is our future workforce.”