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Summer interns

In a recovery period, when new jobs are scarce, internships can spell the difference in ultimately getting hired. Churm Media is proof positive.

by steve churmPublished: July 01, 2011

It has always been a rite of summer. Like sweet corn and strawberries, the arrival of a new crop of interns at Churm Media is a sure sign that the days are growing longer and our newsroom will soon become a beehive of nervous energy.
Sure enough, on a recent weekday morning, 10 fresh faces were positioned around our conference room table for lunch and orientation. If they had been wearing sweatshirts, the fronts would have read: San Diego State, UCI, Cal, Texas, Cal State Long Beach, UC Riverside and CSUF. Their majors are journalism, with an emphasis in print, broadcast and digital media. We even have two marketing interns working in our event-and-design agency, Ripe Orange. It is a full class, and not everyone who applied was accepted. The crush of interest to learn how to write, fact check, edit video and post website content – or learn to service clients and their needs on the marketing and sales side of our business – is not surprising.
A shortage of summer jobs and intense competition for what few full-time opportunities do exist has significantly ratcheted up the importance and pursuit of internships. It used to be that most underclass students would look for summer work to earn extra money when not at the pool or beach. Taking a break from academics and career planning was on the summer syllabus only when the last spring exam was over. Landing an internship was something contemplated near the end of undergraduate studies as a stepping stone from the classroom to a Monday-through-Friday job.
However, with 2 million Americans unemployed and tens of thousands more occupying part-time jobs that returning college students normally filled come May and June, the employment market is tighter than a sealed Tupperware container. Scrambling to get an edge on the deepening reservoir of talent chasing fewer and fewer positions in many industries, first- and second-year students today are forgoing the Ferris Bueller-type summer. They are passing on waiting tables or clerking at retail stores in search of real hands-on experience that could make a difference down the line.
Churm Media is proof of this phenomenon. We’ve had a summer intern or two for most of our 21 years in business. But these days we have interns year round, and the past few summers, with the economy in the tank and unemployment for twenty- somethings hovering around 16 percent, the crowd of interns filling every nook and cranny of our content and art departments is eye opening. Some in our program this year have told us they are doubling down and volunteering to work more hours at Churm Media rather than taking a second job to supplement their income. Why? It’s the hunger for experience and, perhaps, a fear that when they receive that diploma there won’t be an opportunity waiting for them.
The recession, advances in technology and the emerging challenge from skilled labor forces around the world are squeezing the employment market for college graduates. A four-year degree is the new baseline to get noticed. It’s not a guarantee you’ll get an offer and a career. It’s the ticket to the interview only. The difference may well be how much additional experience beyond the classroom a job candidate can bring to a position that two dozen others are vying for. We’re lucky to have so much talent under our roof. I am sensing that the feeling is mutual.  schurm@churmmedia.com