Credit union leadership is aging. Not only will leadership soon be looking to retire, but a lot of our members will soon be retiring as well. So the business model of credit unions really needs to change to attract younger leaders and younger members to carry on the movement. An internship program is a mutually beneficial method to attract and educate future classes of credit union leaders.
I define intern loosely. Many people think of internships as college-sponsored, work-study programs, but really it can be much broader than that. I consider an intern to be any college student looking for a structured part-time job that offers more than simple gopher work. The expectation is that the student is productive and learning, if they also receive college credit for their work, that is all the better.
Everybody needs some type of coach or mentor and, considering the type of people in our movement, credit unions are positioned well to provide fantastic mentors. Credit unions offer a wonderful opportunity to students because of the various roles and jobs requisite of working in one. That is what makes our job so exciting.
When you bring in a young student to intern at a credit union, whether they want to be an entrepreneur or no matter what they want to do, they get a great cross-section of exposure. Interning at a credit union is not like interning at a big bank where student-interns might get stuck in one department for their entire tenure. For example, an internship in the accounts payable department of a big bank doing 500 payables a week, would not be as fruitful as the more universal experience gained from interning at a credit union. We offer a broad and diverse education and we should share that with students.
The internship experience is invaluable for college-students today. Internships within a student’s field of study add value to the academic curriculum. Students can actually apply their studies; it’s no longer just theory. For me, that has been one of the most rewarding things about offering this type of student relationship because the experience enriches their education and makes their academic experience that much more valuable.
During my career, I’ve probably brought on 35 interns and we’ve hired about a third of them for full-time staff positions after they graduate. I think of our internship program as a farm system for recruiting and developing top talent.
Also, for all of their good work, interns don’t cost a lot on the balance sheet. Many colleges and universities offer college credit to students for taking on internships, but the ideal situation is one where the student is receiving college credit in addition to an hourly wage. I normally pay between $10.00 and $12.50 an hour.
When you pay interns you can educate them on the demands of holding a serious job. Explain accountability to them and that you expect them to be present during the agreed upon working hours. Explain that you are paying them, so you expect them to work hard.
At Jersey Shore Federal, we developed an employee advisory council, where we took five teammates on staff—three would be former interns—and allowed them to choose between three projects they could take from inception to design, and ultimately make a presentation to the senior management and the board on their ideas for the project. It was a wonderful opportunity because it introduced younger employees to some of the challenges of credit union leadership: Writing, presenting, and communicating ideas to the board. I hate to generalize, but frankly I find a lot of students today are technologically sophisticated, but their communication skills are not as advanced. Their ability to present ideas and think on their feet is not as solid, so we need to help improve that.
With interns, the big plus is innovation. I love young people because they like to ask the question why? Why do you do it this way? It really forces us to think because the answer should not be, because we’ve always done it this way. It really makes us question things and, I believe, it adds a lot of value.
Internships are an opportunity to help educate the future leaders of the credit union movement. There is more to be gained than just good will, a solid internship program brings the potential of new hires and fresh ideas that can help evolve your institution.