Even as layoffs at tech companies make headlines and new tech talent floods the marketplace, HR leaders around the country know the truth: The labor market remains extraordinarily tight in nearly every sector, with the Labor Department reporting 0.5 unemployed persons per job opening as of January 2023. In response, many companies are challenging themselves to look beyond traditional talent pipelines, rethinking job qualifications and required education, to ensure a growing talent pool. As a result, companies are focusing on finding new pools of talent—primarily, skilled talent without college degrees.
While this shift to skills-based hiring is a welcome change that opens up opportunities to more diverse candidates, it doesn’t answer the question of where companies can find career-ready talent for entry-level roles today.
Even with a shift toward early talent considerations, certain roles still require knowledge and expertise that is most readily accessed by pairing a college degree with job experience. Yet college enrollment continues to decline, dropping another 3.2 percent from 2020 to 2022 according to the National Student Clearinghouse. And the overall number of undergraduate credential earners declined for the first time in a decade last year. So what are companies to do to grow their early talent and encourage future readiness for roles such as these?
Finding, growing, and creating future readiness in early talent pipelines can be addressed with one highly effective approach: Provide paid internships to local high school seniors.
Successful Partnership: Genesys Works and Insperity
Professional work experience during high school exposes young people to careers they may have otherwise not considered and gives them first-hand knowledge of the skills they need to be successful. It also boosts college enrollment and graduation rates, as young people who choose to attend college post-internship do so with a clear idea of the degree they should get and its return on investment. Meanwhile, the company gains access to early talent, with the option to continue the internship after high school.
At Genesys Works—a nationwide program that connects high school seniors in underserved communities with paid corporate internships following a summer training course—we’ve seen the benefits of this approach for more than 20 years. The median income of Genesys Works alumni six years post-program is $55,000 a year. More than 70 percent graduate from college, compared with 45 percent of U.S. adults over age 18. The majority of our students—more than 90 percent—are people of color. In other words, these internships (combined with college and career coaching) are leading to a pool of skilled, diverse talent for employers to draw from.
Insperity, which provides HR services and technology to companies across the U.S., knows that HR leaders are facing a multitude of challenges resulting from the tight labor market. A bad hire is expensive and time-consuming to rectify. Meanwhile, having too many open positions runs the risk of demoralizing and over-working current employees, causing top performers to leave and exacerbating the problem. Offering paid internships for high school seniors allows companies to work with talent at the start of their careers and, if it’s a good fit and the need is there, continue engaging them until they’re ready to be hired full-time. There are other benefits as well: With the right skills training in advance, the interns will contribute from day one. Supervising interns is also a great way to develop managerial skills among employees looking to progress in their own careers.
At Insperity, we’ve partnered with Genesys Works for 10 years and hosted nearly 40 Genesys Works interns (half of those in the last year alone) in business and administrative roles in our Corporate HR, Health and Welfare Services, Property & Casualty, and Retirement Services departments, and Field Service organization. One current intern handles tasks ranging from using our cloud-based system to assisting with claims. In other words: He’s doing real, valuable work. This fall, he’ll be attending the University of Houston to pursue a degree in Business Management as a first-generation college student.
Tips to Keep in Mind
For HR leaders who want to invest in a diverse early talent pool in the long-term, our advice is:
- Generate buy-in across the organization for why this matters and how interns support your business. Take the long-term view and consider additional programming to keep early talent tied to your organization. Creating college summer internships and part-time positions throughout the year allows for college or certification flexibility.
- Look into partnering with a program like Genesys Works that can provide skills training in advance of the internship and support throughout the year to minimize potential issues. Speak with HR leaders of existing partners about what it’s like to work with that organization and the quality of talent it offers.
- If no program partners are available in your market, look into working directly with local high schools to develop an internship program. Take into account logistical issues such as scheduling (we’ve found having students take classes in the morning and go to their internships in the afternoons works best) and transportation. Make sure selected students are on track to graduate from high school, but don’t screen applicants based on grades. We’ve seen that the best predictors of success are a student’s determination and motivation to succeed, not their grade point average.
- Pay your interns, either directly or through a partner program. Professional experience is valuable on its own, but those most in need of support are less likely to participate in an unpaid internship and instead will choose a part-time, minimum-wage job to help their family.
While there are other ways to engage with young adult talent and introduce them to different careers (mentorship, for example), a paid internship is an effective approach that has been proven to change the trajectory of students’ lives and grow the pool of skilled and college-educated talent. By implementing an internship program for high schoolers, HR leaders can play an important role in addressing the future talent pool before it becomes a crisis.