Mentoring is a vital step in career development for many industries. In architecture, the mentoring process often starts as early as college when students obtain jobs with licensed architects. Summer internships offer opportunities for students to get a glimpse into the profession before completing school. However, many companies, including some architecture firms, do not offer internships since it can be a costly endeavor. At MSB Architects, we view internships as a way to give back to and help shape the future of the architectural community.
Let’s address the elephant in the room first. Many companies advertise for unpaid internships. As someone who has been an unpaid intern, I don't think this should be the norm. I will agree that most student interns will not be as productive as someone who already possess the knowledge and training. However, the fact that they are learning how to do the job is not justification for not compensating them. Work experience alone is not adequate compensation for many reasons.
As an employer, we must keep in mind that the student is only with us for a couple of months. If possible, expose interns to as much as possible so they can understand the breadth of the profession. For an architectural internship, we ensure they work in schematic design since it is the most similar to what they already are doing in school, but with real-world parameters that are frequently missing in academia.
Equally important is exposure to the more technical side of our work. We give interns real project details to help them begin to understand constructability. When possible, we always take interns to actual job sites. This summer, we did not have any projects under construction so we did the next best thing and took our intern to a client meeting and to experience how we interact with customers. We also take some time to review the building codes and how they affect building design.
Summer internships are a great way to educate future generations. What they lack in experience is made up by the energy and enthusiasm they bring to the workplace. This energy and fresh way of looking at things make it all worthwhile. If you are a leader in your organization, think about hiring an eager intern, and please always pay them. It’s a good investment in the future.