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What Should the Profession Expect from Academic Departments Regarding Internships?

According to SIOP’s 1999 guidelines for education and training at the doctoral level, “Dual emphasis on theory and practice is needed regardless of a student’s intended career path.” The guidelines recommend that a specific competency, “Consulting and Business Skills,” be included in graduate training. Consulting and business skills includes the sub-competencies of communications, business development, and project management. According to the Business and Consulting Skills subcommittee of the Education and Training Committee, “I-O graduates should not only know what these competencies are, but they should be able to execute them effectively.”

A 2011 survey of graduate students, faculty, and employers of I-O psychologists by SIOP’s Education and Training Committee highlights differences in perception and expectations about consulting and business skills. Click here for the full article in TIP. Table 1 below compares faculty and student perceptions of the degree to which graduate training programs provide opportunities to develop specific business and consulting skills. (Ratings were on a 1 to 5 scale with 1 = small/no extent and 5 = great extent.)

Table 1. Faculty/student differences in perceived opportunities to develop business and consulting skills.

 

Faculty      

 Students

 

 

 

Mean

Mean

t

df

Communication skills in general

3.77

3.62

0.75

207

Business writing

3.14

2.9

1.12

213

Business presentation

3.55

3.11

2.04*

211

Influence and persuasion skills

3.35

2.76

3.10**

211

The individual in the team

4.12

3.37

3.88**

213

Working on project teams

4.39

3.69

3.24**

208

Business development skills in general

2.87

2.88

-0.03

200

Ability to package ideas

3.19

2.84

1.73

213

Practical problem-solving

3.58

3.28

1.55

211

Project management skills in general

3.63

3.45

0.82

199

Organizing work

3.6

3.6

0.01

212

     Integrating and utilizing information

3.81

3.74

0.39

212

*p ≤ .05; **p ≤ .01

The survey indicates a discrepancy between what faculty perceive they provide and what students perceive they receive in opportunities to develop business and consulting skills. The discrepancy is in the direction of faculty perceiving that they provide more opportunities and students perceiving they receive fewer opportunities. The discrepancies are significant in the communications skills area with influence and persuasion skills and working in teams accounting for the biggest short falls in perceived opportunities.

Within the same survey, employers were asked to rate their expectations of new graduate consulting and business skills and then to compare that with the degree to which graduates that they had hired actually possessed those skills. Employer expectations were higher than what was actually delivered for all the consulting and business skills with the biggest gaps in four areas:

  • Communication: 70% of employers expect moderate or greater communication skill levels but only 14% experienced new graduates‘ skills at that level
  • The individual in the team: 77% of employers expect to see this skill to a great extent in new graduates but only 24% experienced new graduate skills at that level.
  • Practical problem solving: 56% of employers expect to see this skill evident to a great extent in new graduates but only 12% report actually seeing it at that level.
  • Integrating and utilizing information: 76% of employers expect this skill to a great extent but only 33% report that new I/O graduates possess the skill to that extent.

It appears that, in the eyes of students and employers, graduate programs may fall short of fully preparing students in consulting and business skills. According to the 2011 SIOP Graduate Program Benchmarking Survey, 80% of academic departments state that internships “are available.” However only 38% of the departments require graduate students to have an internship (58% for masters students but only 33% for Ph.D. students). The survey also notes that a clear majority (74.6%) of the graduate students say they are seeking applied rather than academic jobs. For master’s degree students, the applied percentage is 91% and for doctoral students the applied percentage is 67%.

Academic programs enjoy a great deal of flexibility in how they structure their graduate training; however, with this freedom comes the responsibility to meet the legitimate expectations of both students and those who employ their graduates. Internships can provide a sound way to develop consulting and business skills and achieve SIOP’s dual emphasis on theory and practice. The inclusion of a well-structured internship in graduate training is a good way to successfully prepare graduates to meet the expectations of their employers as well as help graduate programs fulfill the expectations of their students.

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