For years, studies
have shown that people who participate in college internships-where
they have opportunities to be exposed to the professional workplace,
enhance their networking skills, and build their résumés-become
more viable candidates, increasing the likelihood theyll get
and keep a job.
Surveys conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers
(NACE) have indicated that employers draw 40 percent of their new
hires from their own internship programs. This is also true when the
intern happens to have a disability. In fact, a recent Cornell University
study revealed a significant finding; employers who have internships
for people with disabilities are 4.5 times more likely to hire someone
with a disability than employers who dont provide such opportunities.
Internship programs targeted toward specific groups can provide positive
outcomes to the jobseeker, while broadening the recruitment pool of
More and more companies and organizations are expanding their diversity
recruitment and retention efforts to include workers with disabilities.
By attracting students with disabilities into their internship programs,
these employers have the opportunity to leverage talent and meet diversity
goals; they also get a chance to try out a potential employee
before hiring them for a full-time position, while jobseekers with
disabilities get an opportunity to showcase their capabilities and
long-range potential. That can be difficult to do through a conventional
job application or interview. In fact, an internship can be utilized
as a more in-depth job interview that gives the participant the opportunity
to demonstrate skills, effectiveness and suitability for a position
in ways that a brief interview simply cannot.
Employers can create programs that access potential interns through
local colleges and universities by contacting the schools career
services office and inquiring about how to market internship opportunities
to students. A more specific, and often more successful, strategy
toward attracting interns who have disabilities is to partner with
the schools student disability services office, and advertise
these opportunities to the students who receive their services.
Attending campus and community hiring fairs and events, posting internship
positions on disability-specific online job boards, and forming relationships
with local disability employment service providers, are other ways
to conduct effective outreach to targeted student populations.
Federal and private employers can participate in and be matched with
potential interns through numerous existing regional and national
internship programs for students with disabilities, including:
Workforce Recruitment Program
American Association of People with Disabilities Internship
Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities.
Equally important to these recruitment and retention efforts is to
provide mentoring in the workplace after an intern or employee arrives.
Dedicated mentoring programs or, minimally, informal mentoring opportunities,
can go a long way toward improving and sustaining employee satisfaction,
productivity, and morale for both mentees and mentors. Mentorship
programs also help employees feel that they, and their professional
development, are valued and supported by both co-workers and management.
Mentoring for historically underrepresented groups in the workplace,
such as people of color, women, and individuals with disabilities,
can be particularly effective towards fulfilling diversity recruitment
and retention goals. An intern or new employee will also find it enormously
helpful to have people in the workplace to identify with and seek
out for advice, guidance, feedback and assistance with goal setting.
While recruiting and hiring qualified individuals with disabilities
is essential, what happens after the point of hire is just as important.
Mentoring can play a critical role in ensuring that individuals with
disabilities have access to opportunities for professional growth
and advancement, and for receiving objective performance appraisals
and constructive guidance. Mentors can connect mentees to individuals,
opportunities, and networksboth internal and external to the
workplacethat the mentee may not be aware of or have access
to otherwise. These supportive leaders can advise mentees on how to
navigate and negotiate the workplace environment, including the accommodations
process; provide a safe space for mentees to share concerns or challenges;
and provide an outlet for problem solving.
Additionally, giving employees the opportunity to serve as mentors
will likely increase their job satisfaction, productivity and cultural
competence. Mentor programs, especially in concert with targeted internships,
help to establish more inclusive and diverse workplaces that promote
retention, assist in an organizations succession planning efforts,
and increase job satisfaction for all employees.
Creating internships for individuals with disabilities, and providing
them professional mentoring and support from a peer or seasoned professional,
will allow employers to recruit, develop, and retain valued employees
that represent many talents, skills, and identities, thereby helping
to achieve organizational goals and recognition as an employer of
choice for individuals of diverse backgrounds.
For more guidance on how to implement internship and mentoring programs
in your workplace, consider the following resources:
Employer Assistance and Resource Network
Federal Workplace Mentoring Primer (tips for federal and private
sector employers on how to mentor an intern with a disability).
University of Washington Disabilities, Opportunities, Internet
working and Technology (DO-IT) Center
National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth
Think Beyond the Label public-private partnership (resources
to employers and jobseekers with disabilities)
National Resource Directory (mentoring and internship/employ-
ment resources to wounded warriors, service members, veterans).
Remember: Taking time to invest in interns with disabilities can pay
by Erin Sember-Chase
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