Social work interns offer excellent value to human services agencies. You get low-cost labor from students who are motivated to work because they're graded on their performance. If you want to deliver the best experience and get the best results, you need to approach your internship structure with those goals in mind. Here are five ways to manage your interns.
Schedule Informational Interviews
If it's possible for your agency, your interns would love the chance to talk to a variety of professional social workers. See if you can convince your coworkers to sit down for a brown bag lunch or give a short presentation on their work. You could even ask management to do the same thing. Most people are happy to talk about themselves, and you'll be providing a huge value to your interns. The point of the internship is to expose them to the working world of social workers, and they'll benefit from talking to as many different social workers as possible.
Set Expectations Early
Ideally, you'll hold an orientation session during the first week that your social work interns start at your agency. You'll want to cover your expectations on dress code, attendance, computer usage and professionalism. Don't assume that your interns will already know these things; it's better to over-explain at first than be disappointed later on. This is also a great chance to talk more about your agency's focus and get your new helpers excited about working for you.
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Discuss the NASW Code of Ethics
The National Association of Social Workers has created an ethical code for all social workers. Your interns have likely studied this code in their classes, but they may not know how to apply it to their work with your agency. Cutting-edge technology concerns in social work don't have clear answers under the code. For example, some agencies use social media to contact clients in a manner that best fits their current needs, while others avoid this to respect client privacy. Your interns won't know how to apply the code to their day-to-day tasks unless you discuss it with them.
Address Emotional Management
Social work internships are unique because they often involve helping people during vulnerable periods of their lives. Expect your interns to experience emotional discomfort while working for your agency and have a plan to address it. You might want your interns to talk to you about their feelings. You may think your interns should learn to professionally manage their own emotions and would prefer for them to talk to your EAP program or to their professors. Either position is fine, but you should share your expectations with your interns.
Provide Regular Feedback
Most human services agencies that host social work students regularly hire new groups of interns. Although it can be exhausting to constantly work with new interns, you will get the most benefit if you provide ongoing feedback to them. Try to meet every two weeks with your interns to discuss positive and negative aspects of their performance. Encourage them to work at a high level and improve any areas that are falling behind. You'll have much better results this way, and you'll help your interns grow.
Don't get hung up on the unique nature of social work. Internships in this field should work much like any others with clear expectations, ongoing feedback and access to career advice from seasoned professionals.