Internships and Jobs: Developing Real-Life Skills in High School and College

Sarah Sun

Algebra and geometry are necessary, but these courses don’t prepare students for financial success. Students sit in a classroom, but they do not necessarily learn how to act and communicate in a professional setting. Although schools impart knowledge and establish academic competencies, real-life and adulting skills are also necessary for students to learn in order to better prepare them for adulthood following graduation.

According to a survey commissioned by H&R Block, the average response from the 2,000 adults who participated said that over half of the skills they use in the workforce were learned from the job, and 84% of people said they’ve learned things in school that they’ve never used after graduation. Much of what we learn in school consists of solely academic information; while we require adequate preparation in high school for college or future careers, it is also important to ready ourselves for real-world situations.

Schools do not teach life skills for a variety of reasons, including a lack of funding and resources, time, teacher training, and integration with other subjects. While South High does provide classes that are geared toward real-life and adulting skills, the majority of them are electives. Surveyed south high students stated that core classes and academic electives take up much of their schedule, and because of the competitive environment at South High, rigorous courses and extracurriculars leave little time to develop real-life skills.

However, there are ways to gain valuable experiences and skills in high school and college, most directly through internships or job experience.

“​​An internship is any kind of ongoing commitment that you have with an organization, says South High internship coordinator Mrs. Nicole Kinsey. “I’m often asked about the difference between community service and internships. Sometimes they are the same thing, but internships are typically longer term commitments. Also, unlike jobs, internships aren’t always paid.”

“An internship is something that is going to help you explore and be exposed to different career options,” Mrs. Kinsey continues, “whereas a job, maybe at a retail store or a restaurant, could be in an area you’re not necessarily planning to work in later on. However, there’s value in all of it, because you’re developing soft skills, or transferable skills. I always tell students, if you are having a hard time finding an internship that is well-suited for exactly what you want to do, go do anything. Volunteer, do a service based internship, get a part time job. For example, say you’re working at Chipotle, even if you don’t plan on working in the restaurant industry, you’re learning how to speak to customers, how to communicate, and all other kinds of disciplines and skills that you’re going to need to be successful in the workforce later on.”

As students, school is generally our full-time job; however, the “real world” can often be very different from academic environments. As a result, internships or any kind of job experience can provide many lasting and widely applicable benefits.

“Internships can provide you with exposure, learning, communication, and leadership skills, such as learning how to take the initiative,” Mrs. Kinsey says. “Oftentimes in a classroom, we’re waiting for directions and following the teacher, while in a job situation, typically, you have to take on more of that initiative and make your own decisions. People want employees who have independence and who don’t necessarily wait for instruction for every single detail.”

In addition, the process of getting an internship is not difficult, especially with the many resources available at South High. “Say you wanted to volunteer or intern at North Shore University Hospital,” Mrs. Kinsey explains. “There’s an application that you have to fill out and submit, and you do have to get working papers for those even though it’s not paid. The process to getting working papers, or employment certification, is pretty simple—you go to the nurse’s office, and they are either able to give you an application right away, or they give you a form that you bring to your doctor’s office to sign off that you are medically able to work. Then, you bring that back to the nurse’s office, they give you a card that you keep, like an ID.”

“To actually get the position, you can have a conversation with me, cold email, or use connections, even if it’s a parent, a family friend, or other ways to get your foot in the door,” Mrs. Kinsey continues. “The process itself is different for every place. Oftentimes, I make an introduction, forward your resume, and then there’ll be an interview. A great way to find out about opportunities we offer is through my website. If you click into the South High homepage, and then under Students click Career Internship Program, there is information about how the program works, how you can get school credit, etc. If you go to the Placements tab, you can find information on our current internship partnerships, organized by industry.”

Exploring career options and learning about yourself also extends to finding jobs/internships in college. “It’s really important that you stay open and curious,” says Dr. Margaret Dunne, an English teacher at South High. “Most people in this world want to help students and young people navigate these spaces, and would be happy to share their experiences with you. Also, you never know who has an aunt, an uncle, or a parent who’s in the field you’re interested in. Show up for networking events, go to career talks, reach out to professors, get to know your teachers— the best way to network is to be open about what you’re looking for.”

Academic coursework is still very important—rigorous curriculums and a good education are vital for developing thinking skills and postsecondary success. However, job experience is just as valuable when it comes to the varied skill set you grow and use in high school. “But, I also think that students, especially in this school, do tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves nowadays,” Mrs. Kinsey adds. “Internships aren’t something that you should be taking on 40 hours a week, but should be something you do to get a better sense of what you might be interested in doing and what your strengths are, and develop rewarding skills outside of an academic setting.”