My workplace seems quieter than usual this week. We are just as busy as we were last week, but our summer interns have left us and gone back to school.
This is my seventh summer being a sponsor of interns in Exelon Generation’s summer internship program. Each summer brings a new group of bright, enthusiastic interns,who inject new ideas, viewpoints and challenges into our daily lives. They are experts in technologies and applications that were not even a thought when most of us were in school. Sustainability is fully integrated into their approach to work, whereas for most of us, sustainability became a business imperative long after we started working here. When they leave us to return to school, the lessons they leave behind help us improve our intern and recruiting programs, as well as change how we respond to our daily challenges.
Our intern program is ten weeks long. It starts with an orientation to the company and our values, with special emphasis on safety and expectations. During the program, the interns are provided opportunities to work on multiple projects and visit different power generating stations to broaden their exposure to our business. Each intern receives a mid-period and an end-of-period performance evaluation, as well as the opportunity to evaluate our program. At the end of the program, they present their accomplishments to our senior leadership team. The presentations include an overview of what they did during the summer, what they learned and what they would like us to learn from their experiences working with us.
There are a number of documented benefits to an intern program. For us, it is a tool to attract the best and brightest college students. The business of electric power generation is highly technical and we compete with other leading companies for talented graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. We benefit by creating a pipeline of proven future employees. We also see greater retention of the employees we hire from our intern ranks, because those who have interned for us already know what to expect from a company that generates electricity 24/7/365. They also understand the culture they will be working in.
If you are thinking of starting an intern program, it is most important to view the internship as a partnership between the student and the company. For us, an intern is not an extra pair of hands to complete routine or administrative tasks. We offer the student an opportunity to receive hands-on experience applying the principles they learned in school. Our environmental interns work side by side with our environmental professionals, completing biological studies, assessing impacts of new regulations and working with our power plants to implement them. They are also involved with identifying and implementing storm water management best management practices, and completing studies to aid the siting of solar and wind installations.
The most rewarding part of the program for me is the feedback we receive from our interns. In describing what she learned from working in our power plants in Texas, one intern said: “My time at Exelon has shown me the importance of communication, and the value of a functional work environment. This summer I have had a glimpse of what it is like to be an environmental professional; to work with a team of people every day and maintain critical energy generation without losing focus on my primary target: Protecting the environment and the plant’s well-being.”
Another intern now working as a Fellow with a U.S. government agency told us: “The skills I picked up during my internship are giving me a serious edge. Researching unfamiliar topics, self-managing, and communicating with different groups are all part of the job and I should definitely thank you again for giving me the chance to develop all those things while I was working for you.”
Receiving this feedback makes me realize that the time and effort I put into the intern program is paid back to me in multiples. I find it rewarding that something I am passionate doing will actually help others, who are seeking their own paths to success. And while the energy level at the workplace is reduced with the departure of our interns, I am re-energized by my experiences with them this summer.
You can hear more from Vicky Will about Exelon Corp.’s talent development programs in the“Building and Maintaining Talent” session at the 2013 EHS Management Forum on Oct. 23-25 in Montreal.