Internships help students make the leap from education to employment.

For a growing number of students, their college experience is not complete without an internship.

"Employers expect it today and students are getting the message," says Internship Director Julia Beckner at the Ohio State University's Office of Student Life.

Students overcome their lack of career experience through internships. "They gain a better understanding of their chosen industry," Beckner says. "Internships also teach core skills of communication and teamwork, and demonstrate if they're prepared for the demands of a workplace."

"Students use internships to test the waters of the real world," says Tiffany Sperring, career services director at Columbus College of Art and Design. "Is this really what they want to do? An internship should help them answer that question. Finding out early if it is or isn't a good fit is a valuable lesson."

Internships are also a cost-effective recruiting strategy for employers. "Look at it as a 10-week interview," Beckner says. "They build the talent pipeline and increase retention. They're also a good tool to address diversity initiatives."

During the past five to eight years, internships have shifted from unpaid to primarily paid experiences. "Employers previously looked at interns as extra hands to run errands or file. Today, internships are true work experiences that prepare students for a career," Beckner says.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that 60 percent of college graduates who participate in a paid internship receive at least one job offer prior to graduation.

A 2011 Fair Labor Standards Act guideline also contributed to the shift. "It states that if an intern is contributing to the operations of the business, he or she should be paid. The guideline applies to private and for-profit companies. Nonprofits and government agencies can have paid or unpaid interns," Beckner says.

If your organization has not considered utilizing interns, you might want to reconsider. Columbus CEO highlights some successful programs locally that benefit students and employers alike.

Grange Insurance

Changing industry demographics led Grange Insurance to develop a formal internship program.

"More than 26,000 insurance jobs will be available in the coming years because of retirements and industry growth. That's just in Ohio. It's important to bring in new talent," says Brian Ponchak, senior human resources business partner.

Grange's Intern Development Program has grown from 10 to 15 interns annually in 2011 to 23 in 2014. The company is planning on 23 interns in 2015. High school to graduate students can apply for the 10-week summer program.

"We're well aware that insurance isn't a sexy industry," Ponchak says. "Students usually think of salesmen. We see at campus job fairs that they don't know we have accounting and finance jobs, marketing positions, IT jobs and more."

Cambell Parrish proves Ponchak's point. "I hadn't really considered insurance. When I interviewed, my eyes were opened to the career possibilities," he says.

Parrish was chosen as a 2014 intern. "Right away I had responsibilities for a marketing event. I worked on some creative briefs. I hit the ground running," he says.

Grange pairs interns with a mentor from its Young Professionals group. The interns also collaborate on a corporate project. "The topic can be anything that affects Grange or the insurance industry. They present their findings to our senior leadership. We consider it a fresh point of view," Ponchak says.

Last year, Grange hired six of its interns. Parrish, now an OSU graduate, was among them. The marketing specialist says, "I'm excited to continue some of the responsibilities I had as an intern and to take on new ones."

Thompson Hine

Employing law students as clerks is a long-standing practice in the legal profession. Thompson Hine conducts campus interviews, uses internal recruiters and combs through unsolicited resumes. In 2014, the firm hired two summer clerks.

"The number we hire depends on our needs at the time," says Mike Wible, partner in charge of the Columbus office.

"We hire first-year and second-year clerks. They do research, draft and review documents. The second-year clerks do so at a more sophisticated level, though," he says. "We make a conscious effort to take them with us to court and depositions as appropriate."

Some students return after the first summer, others do not. "Maybe they want a different firm or a different size of firm for a broader clerkship experience," Wible says.

Thompson Hine employs 400 lawyers in seven offices. Each office has a clerk coordinator who is the go-to resource for summer associates. The coordinator also ensures that the lawyers working with the clerks provide meaningful feedback. "At the end of their clerkship, they have a number of evaluations," Wible says.

A writing advisor assists the summer clerks with three writing assignments given to them by the firm. "Legal writing is very different from other types of writing. The writing advisor looks for clarity of thought, relevant content and well-reasoned arguments," Wible says.

In 2014, Thompson Hine offered employment to its 2014 second-year clerk in Columbus.

"Our summer clerk program works just like any other internship, other than the end game. In the legal profession, the primary way to get a job is through the summer clerkship. It's a very competitive avenue to an offer," Wible says.

Columbus Foundation

Internships have a place in the nonprofit sector, too.

"We show the viability of a career in nonprofits and that there's important work to be done," says Dan Sharpe, community research and grants management officer at the Columbus Foundation.

Its 10-week Summer Fellowship Program is entering its sixth year. "We've worked with 55 nonprofits and students. The students represent 13 colleges and universities from five states. In 2015, we're expanding from 11 host sites to 14, the largest ever," Sharpe says.

Nonprofit organizations apply to be a host organization. "The applications outline their needs and explain how fulfilling them advances their work. Sometimes they need human capital to complete or launch a project and that's where the fellowship program can help," Sharpe says.

Boys and Girls Clubs of Columbus had its 2014 fellow expand a pilot project that curbs summer knowledge loss. Two sites grew to five, reaching 750 children. "It had a huge impact on our kids. Ninety-four percent of the kids showed no summer learning loss and some had a knowledge gain," says Executive Director Rebecca Asmo.

Fellows can be college juniors, seniors, recent graduates or graduate students. "We look for qualities that will make them good employees. They're not simply well-intentioned students. And not all of them have social service-related degrees. Fellows have had arts, communications, marketing, information technology and other majors," Sharpe says.

Host organizations select their fellow from two candidates presented by the Columbus Foundation. The foundation also provides each host with a $6,700 grant: $5,000 for the fellow's compensation and $1,700 for other expenses related to the project.

Learning sessions supplement the fellows' on-site work and excursions highlight Columbus' social and cultural events. "We do more than expose them to nonprofits. We immerse them in Columbus culture, so their diploma is not a one-way ticket out-of-town," Sharpe says.

Such is the experience of OSU graduate Alexandria Ingley, a donor services specialist at United Way of Central Ohio. In 2011, her fellowship host organization was Green Columbus.

"I was tasked with creating a green schools initiative to connect teachers, administrators and parents. I developed a green resource kit with environmental curriculum, project ideas for teachers and communities and a list of environmentally safe products," she says.

Ingley credits the fellowship with helping her transition from college to career. "It was empowering. I created something that made an impact. I learned communication, project management and other skills that I use every day," she says.

Lisa Hooker is a freelance writer.