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Bogus or Real? Top Reasons Companies Say They Don’t Have a Thriving Internship Program

Debunking fake news is everyone’s favorite 2020 hobby. Today’s fake news? The top three reasons we hear from companies for why they don’t have a thriving, year-round IT internship program: 1) cost, 2) headache, and 3) work quality. Are these bogus excuses or valid explanations? The experts at Exelaration are pleased to present our findings. […]

by | Nov 16, 2020

Debunking fake news is everyone’s favorite 2020 hobby. Today’s fake news? The top three reasons we hear from companies for why they don’t have a thriving, year-round IT internship program: 1) cost, 2) headache, and 3) work quality. Are these bogus excuses or valid explanations? The experts at Exelaration are pleased to present our findings.

First, let’s understand the problem. We’re facing a global plague in 2020, and it’s not the one you’re thinking about. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the shortage of engineers in the U.S. will exceed 1.2 million by 2026. The shortage is so dire (and growing) that IT is now the best-compensated job sector. The pandemic hasn’t dampened this demand: 69% of U.S. employers say they’re struggling to fill positions in 2020, and tech positions are in the top 10 hardest roles to fill. This excellent article sums up the software developer shortage in the U.S. and across the globe.

The solution to this pandemic would be one that immediately starts chipping away at all the software we need to build while simultaneously bringing more tech workers online earlier and faster. And if we can do both of those things, we’d also like to do a third: increase the diversity of our notoriously white and male tech workforce. While we’re asking for the moon, would you like fries with that?

Plot twist: there is such a solution. A robust, professionally managed tech internship program accomplishes all these things. But surprisingly, some companies resist it while those that have internships typically sponsor only a handful of seasonal interns on marginal efforts. Why?

These companies report three objections: 1) cost, 2) headache, and 3) work quality. Here’s why they’re all bogus excuses:

Cost: 100% bogus. Even in the highly compensated world of technology, interns typically earn between $10 and $25/hour, and work between 8 and 20 hours per week. This means the typical intern’s wages range from $4,000-25,000, a far cry from the average developer salary of $108k, which doesn’t even include the full-time benefits costs beyond salary. This purely static analysis doesn’t take into account the staggering opportunity cost of vacant positions that interns could fill. American companies are letting critical IT projects go uncompleted because they can’t fill IT roles. The cost of launching those essential projects with an understaffed team can be even greater: the burnout of overstretched IT teams results in low morale, attrition, and faulty software releases. Then there’s the cost of recruiting (and retaining) a qualified tech engineer on the open market, which can exceed $10,000, sometimes by an order of magnitude. Conversely, an internship program gives an employer the inside track for top engineers who serve as interns, and the months-long vetting process ensures that the right folks get hired. As for retention, interns-turned-employees are more likely to stay longer: after five years, more than half of former interns remained at their employer, whereas about a third of non-interns remained. No more debunking necessary: claiming that an internship is too costly is fake news. The opposite is actually true: the cost of not hosting an internship program is massive.

Headache: 90% bogus. This reason is valid, but only a little. Some companies, particularly startups, small companies, and nonprofits, shouldn’t try to go it alone and implement a tech internship program without help. Recruiting, hiring, overseeing, and out-processing interns can be challenging, distracting, and expensive. Fortunately, there’s an answer: the professional internship organization (PIO). Just as there are viable outsourcing answers for payroll, benefits, and legal functions, the PIO has emerged as the internship answer for many organizations. We invented Exelaration as the world’s first PIO to give the power of tech internships to every organization. We recruit, hire, oversee, and manage interns for our clients, which gives our clients the best of all worlds: access to a renewable tech talent pipeline, and capability to complete their mission-critical software projects, without any headaches. Debunk result? An internship program might produce some headaches for many organizations, but with the advent of the PIO, those headaches disappear.

Work Quality. 100% bogus. The most common misconception about interns is that they’re cheaper and less experienced, adding up to one result: lower quality. This logic fails to consider the innovation brought to the industry by the professional internship organization (PIO). Sure, interns are paid less than salaried software developers (as discussed above under ‘cost’), but that’s a byproduct of their student and part-time status, not their work output; tech graduates with no hands-on work experience are paid high salaries upon graduation. On the other hand, the fresh classroom knowledge and conscientious disposition of interns optimized under the senior expertise of veteran mentors is a proven mechanism that delivers defect-free, world-class software. Exelaration’s clients routinely applaud the quality of our work product as well as the value they receive from our teams. One client noted, “They consistently bring value to our project by asking the right questions, challenging our assumptions, and innovating new solutions to meet our needs – all while displaying a high level of professionalism.” Clients of the PIO model confidently entrust their IT projects to a team of emerging developers, working under an expert mentor, with a vested interest in delivering a quality product on time for their client. Debunk finding: clients have spoken, and they say the promise of a renewable tech talent pipeline is a bonus on top of a proven software delivery model.

Fortunately, the number of organizations resisting the power of tech internships is shrinking. But In the face of such clear findings, why do some organizations continue to resist the wave of tech internships? It’s a matter of changing minds one at a time and realizing that organizations who are last to change will suffer in today’s red-hot competitive talent market. The most successful organizations won’t be the ones who see talent as a finite resource to be attracted and retained, but rather a renewable resource they have the power to cultivate.



With over 30 years’ experience in technology consulting, Steve Cooper has founded three successful companies whose clients include Fortune 100 companies, leading federal agencies, and world-class non-profit organizations. Starting his career as one of the first relational database experts, Steve’s focus is helping individuals achieve exceptional careers, and helping leaders build organizations around them. He founded NextUp Solutions to focus on transformative learning for teams and individuals. Steve is a vocal leader in the effort to invite more diverse and abundant participants to the technology workplace through internships and experiential learning.

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