New Webinar Series on Internship Research in 2020
Wednesday, June 3, 2020
Hosted by Matthew Hora, with special guest Dr. Sean Edmund Rogers from the University of Rhode Island
All Internships are Not Created Equal: Job Design, Satisfaction, and Vocational Development in Paid and Unpaid Internships
>> Matthew Hora: So welcome, everybody, to the Center for Research on College to Workforce Transitions. This is our first webinar on college internship research in summer 2020. We’re starting this series in part because we had to cancel our fall internship research symposium. We may still do an online version, but we’re not sure. But since that was cancelled, we just wanted to feature some internship scholars out in the world and just find out what they’re doing and just to get the word out to people in the field, whether you’re managing internship programs from the employer or the college side or you’re an interdisciplinary scholar interested in the topic.
And so welcome, thank you all very much.
The format will be, I will be speaking with Dr. Sean Rogers, who I will introduce in a minute, from the University of Rhode Island. But if you have questions, go ahead and put them in the chat box. I’ll be moderating, and I’ll try to take some notes. And then we definitely will have time towards the end for Q and A. And so yeah, let’s go ahead and go. And before I introduce our guest today, next week we’re going to have Julia Freeland Fisher from the Christiansen Institute. She will be speaking about social capital and professional networks and how they’re developed within internships or not and some of the implications for having internships being shifted online in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. So that’ll be next week, and then over the next few weeks, we’re going to have a bunch of other stellar guests including Carrie Shandra from Stony Brook University, and then we have some scholars that I found in Australia who are doing some great research on career adaptability and internships and also e-internships. That’s what they call them over there.
So, without further ado, I would like to introduce Dr. Sean Rogers. Sean Edmund Rogers is a Spachman Professor of Human Resources and Labor Relations and an Associate Professor of Management at the University of Rhode Island College of Business. He is also a faculty fellow in the Loy Institute for Leadership at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. He holds a Ph.D. in industrial relations and human resources from Rutgers University and has published widely on such topics as internships, volunteerism, and employee recruitment. Dr. Rogers is co-author of the book “Change Management in Nonprofit Organizations: Theory and Practice,” published in 2019 by Palgrave Macmillan. He is a U.S. Army combat veteran and currently serves as a medical service corps officer in the Air Force Reserve. And today we’ll be talking about a paper that came out in 2019 in the “Human Resource Management Review,” and with that, I’d like to say welcome, Dr. Rogers, thank you very much for joining us today.
>> Sean Rogers: Thank you very much, Matthew. I’m pleased to be here. I’m excited that so many folks have expressed interest in this topic and looking forward to our conversation today.
>> Matthew Hora: Great, I as well. And so, thank you all for joining us again, if you just logged in. The format of these webinars — we’re hoping they’re going to be pretty informal, not unlike Zach Galifianakis’s “Between Two Ferns,” although hopefully we won’t be roasting each other, Sean. But really informal. I’m going to be asking Dr. Rogers some questions. If you have any questions, please go ahead and put them in the chat box. But I’ll go ahead and start by asking, can you tell me about the motivation behind doing the study that was published in “HR Management Review,” and especially why did you and your colleagues choose to focus on the issues of job design, satisfaction, and vocational development between paid and unpaid internships?
>> Sean Rogers: Great question. So I’ll deal with the first question first, which is the motivation, then I’ll circle back to the variables and why we focused on what we did in that paper. So, internships are frequently discussed as having tripartite benefits of enhancing college students’ career development, enabling organizations to review and hire future talent, and allowing colleges and universities to really create these meaningful pathways with employees. My colleagues and I have a particular interest in the first of those, namely the individual-level experiences and outcomes of the college students who participate in these internships. You know, I had a professor in grad school who would say that the most meaningful research a person can do is oftentimes what he called me-search or research that reflects one’s own personal experiences. Well, 20 years ago this past spring semester as a college senior wrapping up my own undergrad studies, I completed an unpaid internship. And since becoming a college professor, I’ve had many discussions with students who were considering doing an unpaid internship, and I’ve listened to their concerns beforehand or their experiences afterwards. And so it was these personal experiences that really motivated me to want to explore unpaid internships and the lived experiences of unpaid interns more deeply.
And so, your second question was why we focused on what we did, which is job design, satisfaction, and vocational development. There’s not a lack of research and writings on unpaid internships. But what I found was that most of it centers around justice issues or equity, are they fair, who becomes an unpaid intern and why, and so on. And these are extremely important questions that ought to be asked, and I appreciate and believe that those conversations must continue. But I also know that a lot of internships are unpaid internships right now. And that means that while having those important discussions about fairness of unpaid internships are critical, there are also hundreds of thousands of college students who work as unpaid interns each year. And we wanted to know what these people are experiencing and whether their time spent was beneficial for them and their future careers. Again, going back to the benefits of internships for college students, we wanted to know if the time spent doing an unpaid internship was indeed time well spent.
Now, my colleagues on this project and I are all management and organization scholars, so we study human resource management, we study organizational behavior, we study industrial organizational psychology. And so when we think about the experience and outcomes of work, a natural focus point for us was job design. And basically — and I think you might get into this later, what is job design, but I’ll just answer it briefly now — job design describes how what I would call in the classroom the TDRs, the tasks, duties, and responsibilities of work, are organized, right? And jobs have characteristics like tasks, of course, tools, different time requirements, levels of authority and responsibility, policies and procedures, things like working conditions, level of stress, and even social opportunities. So from an HR perspective, a human resource management perspective, these characteristics tend to be determined through the process of job analysis. And this is typically controlled and influenced by the organization and by managers.
So circling back to internships, we wondered whether the detailed characteristics of work, things like complexity of the task, things like how interesting the work is, or the amount and quality of performance management and performance feedback on the work being completed, or the opportunities to form meaningful professional networking relationships, differ between paid and unpaid internships. And our hypothesis in that paper is that there is a difference and that unpaid internships will generally exhibit less structure and lower-quality job characteristics than paid internships. And we think that this difference then has an effect, a downrange consequence, on one, the satisfaction, and two, the vocational development that college students derive from their internship experiences. So we focused on these variables again because we find that existing scholarship on unpaid interns doesn’t much focus on these types of individual-level experiential considerations, at least what we found, so we wanted to contribute to that literature. So that’s my sort of long-winded response to your question, and my apologies, I can go on and on with talking. But hopefully that answers the question, at least partly.
>> Matthew Hora: Oh, it does, and that was not long-winded. We’re academics, and we can talk about our papers for hours.
>> Sean Rogers: Right.
>> Matthew Hora: That was nothing. One of the reasons I was so intrigued by your paper was from our review of the literature. The actual work that interns are doing at the jobsite is something that hasn’t been explored in great depth. And so I was really intrigued by your focus on job design, you know, which often is a topic in human factors and systems engineering as well as the learning sciences. So I was especially intrigued by it coming out of the HR and management background that you and your colleagues come from.
My next question has to do with how do you study this because my understanding is the paper was kind of, you know, laying out the groundwork of the types of variables and factors we should be looking at when it comes to internships. And I would offer that, you know, it doesn’t matter if it’s unpaid or paid, we need to be understanding better what the interns are doing at the jobsite. But how would we study this? How would we operationalize this in empirical research?
>> Sean Rogers: And that’s a great question, and you’re spot-on when you talk about needing to understand really the details of the work that these college students are performing so that we can ensure, one, that that experience is adding value and then, two, is institutions, right? As colleges, as universities, we can communicate to employers what our students need to really develop their career skills and enhance their future, you know, capabilities. So when we think about job design, right, that’s sort of a — if I’m teaching an undergraduate course in HR, that’s week three or week four, right? That’s sort of core. And after I get done with the overview of what is human resources and how to align HR with strategy and maybe some of the legal stuff, the first really core topic I’m going to cover in human resource management is job analysis and job design. And job design really helps us to think about what are again those TDRs, the tasks, duties, and responsibilities that enable the people performing that work to make productive contributions to their teams and to their organizations.
And we’ve been talking in the organization science about job design for decades now, really a long, long time. You can go all the way back — you can even go before this, but you can go back to Adam Smith, right, division of labor, and then you can work your way up to Max Weber talking about bureaucracy, right, and how organizations structure work. And you can come up through Frederick Winslow Taylor and scientific management stuff, and then in the ’30s and the ’40s Elton Mayo in the Human Relations School at Harvard up to the ’70s, which is when the introduction of the job characteristics model and job characteristics theory by scholars Hackman and Oldham really sort of laid a foundation for how we conceptually think about this and empirically measure it, right? And so they hypothesized and later tested and demonstrated that, you know, five characteristics have effects on individuals performing work and then some downrange consequences for the organization, right? Things like task significance, right, how significant do I perceive the work that I’m performing, autonomy, feedback from the job itself, skill variety, and things like this, right? So starting in the ’70s, we really took a closer look at the intricate design of work and how that affects the psychological states of the people performing that work and then there at the time-dependent variables where things like satisfaction, turnover, intention, and so forth and so on, right?
So the better, if you will, a job is structured, the more that it provides workers with abilities to exhibit their knowledge and skills and gives them autonomy and other things that work, the better the outcomes. And so when we think about internship design, we really build on that initial job characteristics model, and really a development of it that showed up in the “Journal of Applied Psychology” in 2006 by scholars Morgeson and Humphrey where they update the JCM, the jobs characteristics model in a new work design questionnaire, WDQ, right? And they build on but also expand in a major way the concepts of the characteristics of work to include things like information processing, complexity, problem solving, opportunities for developing again social networks, right, the feedback that you get from peers and from supervisors, and so on and so forth.
So what we want to do is really ask interns about their internship experience at this granular work design level. It’s not just a, “Hey, how did you enjoy your experience? Tell me some things that worked well or didn’t work well.” But we want to ask them based on this empirically validated construct of work design, right, you know, tell us about the extent to which you were able to bring your knowledge, skills, and abilities that you’re learning in your academic programs to bear on the worksite, in the form of working on complex problems, in the form of using any technical expertise and capabilities you might have, in the form of completing a project, right, as a whole and seeing it through. So that’s how we plan on measuring really with this Morgeson and Humphrey 2006 work design questionnaire scale, which includes a number of items, over a dozen different subscales that map onto underlying concepts or structures of work design.
>> Matthew Hora: That’s great, and I really want to see the results of your research, and I’ll definitely look up that survey because I think we may consider adding some of those scales right onto our current college internship study.
>> Sean Rogers: Yeah, and I’ll tell you, Matthew, so we have preliminary data right now we actually collected. We have data from two data collections, right? So one we did at two large research university students and in colleges of business. And we also have other data, you know, about 300 or 400 responses from Qualtrics, an internet survey platform created for us. And we got some interesting preliminary results, and we want to continue collecting information because, you know, the reviewers, particularly through this process of getting this paper, the conceptual or theoretical paper, published in the “Human Resource Management Review” gave us great ideas about some of the other ways that we might think about the entire model and the mechanisms and how the variables work and interact with one another.
But our preliminary results support this notion that unpaid interns are experiencing lower — we categorized these job design characteristics into three buckets, task characteristics, knowledge characteristics, and social characteristics. So task characteristics have to do with, you know, just the nature of the work itself. Knowledge has to do with to what extent they’re able to actually use or bring to bear, you know, what they’ve learned in the classroom. And then the social is as it sounds, you know, these relationships at work. And at least in our few hundred, you know, probably close to 500 respondents, we’re finding that those individuals who have completed unpaid internships tend to report lower levels of task, knowledge, and social characteristics in the work that they performed in the internships that they completed than do paid interns, right? And this seems to then have an effect on their satisfaction with that internship.
Where the initial findings diverge from our predictions is that the perceptions of career development or vocational development — and we use the VSC, so the crystallization of vocational development construct. Where the initial findings diverge is that students, even in unpaid internships, even who seem to report lower-quality levels of job design, still report similarly high outcomes when it comes to the crystallization of their vocational self-concept.
And so that got us to thinking, because what is VSC, or what is the crystallization of VSC? VSC speaks to the extent to which students — and I’m sort of shorthanding it here — students come to understand what it is they might enjoy, might want to do professionally or as a career, right? And if I think about my own unpaid internship experience and I think about the conversations I have with students who complete internships of both type, paid or unpaid, you know, it got me to thinking even if you have an unpaid internship and even if it doesn’t quite give you the experience that you’re hoping it’s going to give you in terms of complexity or task characteristics or what have you, that experience can still help you to at least formulate your thoughts around what you might want to do in a career. It still might help you to think about or maybe even try another course for, you know, your occupational choices, right? So, you know, that’s one possible explanation.
But what we’re going to do is collect more information or collect more data, I should say, because we really want to build, one, a robust and what we hope is a comprehensive, or as comprehensive as we can be, conceptual or theoretical model, and then, two, we really need a large enough sample to run the analyses we want to demonstrate these relationships between these variables, right? Particularly mediation and moderation and even the moderated mediation models that we hope can explain what’s going on here. So that’s just a quick aside about how we’re thinking about the relationship between these variables.
>> Matthew Hora: Oh, this is great, Sean. I’m so glad that we connected, and I think I speak for a number of people on this webinar. It’s super great to hear the work you’re doing because it’s so important and needed. And one of the things we’ve been trying to do in our center is to really open up the black box of internships. So it’s not just a checkmark that somebody says, “Yes, I did one, no, I didn’t.” We have to really understand what they’re experiencing, and so this is fantastic. And I wanted to pose a question that is being asked in the chat, “In the surveys, do you make a distinction between unpaid internships in areas like congressional offices and NGOs versus for-profit companies?”
>> Sean Rogers: So we certainly collect information about the type of organization, the sector that they’re participating in because we believe that there’s certainly something there. Also industry, right? We use the standard industry classifications because I think the way that, you know — at least I would hypothesize that part of what’s influencing the way that students perceive their experiences is what are the norms in the industry or the sectors that they’re in, right, or even the academic programs. And we know that — for example, I work in the college of business. Most if not all of the college of business students that I interact with are expecting to engage in a paid internship. And sort of an unpaid internship would be atypical, right? Whereas there might be other majors in other colleges in other industries where, you know, an unpaid internship is not unheard of. It might even be sort of understood that, “Oh, this is what happens, and so if I want to get a certain experience, I’ve got to do it.” And, you know, the sort of justice or ethical issues notwithstanding, right, because certainly that’s a discussion to be had. So yes, we do collect that type of information. And then, you know, that’s what I meant when I’m talking about we need a sample size that’s large enough that allows us to tease all of this out, right?
>> Matthew Hora: Mm-hmm.
>> Sean Rogers: Industry classification, sector, size of the organization, right? We’re looking at size of the organization in terms of number of employees. And then — you know, I don’t want to use the word characteristics because we’ve been using that a lot — but sort of the features of the internship itself in terms of how many hours a week am I working, right? How many days a week? And I think all of those can shed light on how we understand internships and then how we can create policies and guidelines and best practices that maximize the benefits for those three stakeholder groups.
>> Matthew Hora: Great, thank you. And I just want to pause and thank everybody for joining us again. We have people from all over the country, Westchester Community College, Manhattanville Community College, University of Utah, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Parkside, and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Hello, Toby.
So I want to pose another question. This comes from Brian at Northeast Illinois University. “I would presume that paid internships have higher levels of employee engagement than unpaid internships.” Do you have any thoughts on that possibility?
>> Sean Rogers: So great question, Brian, and so as academics always answer, that’s an empirical question, right? That’s something that we want to explore, and yes, I would hypothesize in that direction the same way that we hypothesized that, you know, paid internships are going to have more structure in terms of work design, and that is going to then yield certain outcomes, right? We picked two outcomes because, you know, you have to contain these papers and really be able to focus. But there’s probably a laundry list — well, there is a laundry list of dependent variables that you could focus on, and one is certainly engagement, right, worker engagement. And if a job is designed such that it allows for more autonomy and input into decision making on the part of the person performing that job and it allows them to exhibit higher levels of whatever, right, complexity and information processing and technical expertise, we know that many of those things are then linked to employee engagement.
When we talk about paid employee research, we know some of the inputs to employee engagement. And so if there is a disconnect there, then, you know, we want to be aware of that, and we want to make sure that all internships are designed in ways that allow for maximum engagement so that those stakeholders, and particularly the students, can get out of those experiences, those one-, two-, three-, four-, five-month experiences, what they need to be successful and what can contribute to their future career success. That’s a great question. Thank you for asking that, Brian.
>> Matthew Hora: Yeah, and one of the things that I’m really enjoying learning more about your work, Sean, is some of my training is in anthropology, and I’m listening to you talk about the nature of task design and the nature of engagement between a supervisor and an intern, and I’m thinking of Jean Lave’s work. She’s at UC Berkeley, and, you know, she really popularized the idea of community of practice, and her research originally was in Liberia, looking at, you know, how tailors actually brought on young people and showed them — it really isn’t the apprenticeship model — but showed them slowly how to engage first in, you know, pretty low-stake, simple tasks, and then as they demonstrated more expertise, they would be brought more into the fold of the profession. And so I’m listening to you thinking this is an obvious candidate for mixed-methods research.
>> Sean Rogers: Right.
>> Matthew Hora: The type of large-scale surveys you’re doing and then, you know, going in depth and maybe doing some observations of what are the interns actually doing at their jobsites.
>> Sean Rogers: Absolutely.
>> Matthew Hora: So I want to say hello to a few other people. We have Jill from Bar Harbor, Maine, although I didn’t pronounce Bar Harbor correctly. And Emily, “I want to pose a question.” Hi, Emily. Let me get back to it. “Are employers open to working with academics in improving the student experience and incorporating your findings and knowledge?” So I guess part of that question is have you worked much with employers in trying to translate some of your findings into the field of practice?
>> Sean Rogers: Well, that’s always a hope, right? That’s always a hope that employers will take findings like these and integrate them into, you know, their approaches, right? So one of the things I can think about, right? So, for example, I work closely with faculty and leaders at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, and I think I heard you shout out to Toby from the Coast Guard Academy is on here. So I work with them on the research and practice of mentorship and character development. I think this is relevant for the interns, so I’m going to tie it all together. You know, and I’m a faculty fellow down at the Coast Guard Academy’s Institute for Leadership. The Coast Guard Academy in New London in Connecticut is about a 45-minute car ride south of the University of Rhode Island. So for some time now, they’ve run a mentoring program that allows cadets or students to partner with experienced individuals in organizations to gain knowledge and skills that are going to enhance the students’ leadership capabilities and better prepare them for career success, right? And these connections are not passive. The experienced individuals in participating organizations take an active role in understanding a cadet’s background, their current capabilities and knowledge, and their personal and professional aspirations.
And likewise, the selection and partnering process of student to mentor is deliberate on the part of the Coast Guard Academy. So staff from the Institute for Leadership as well as faculty members in the Management Department and other academy departments, academic departments, they work to purposefully align cadets’ interests with individual and organization mentor capabilities so as to maximize the benefits for all stakeholders, the students or the cadets, the mentoring individuals and organizations and the institutions. And these are the same three stakeholders or stakeholder groups affected by college internships.
And so I see a model like the Coast Guard Academy’s model of student leadership and character development as one that can inform the way that employers approach internships and also the way that colleges think about internships. So it’s a deliberate and purpose-driven approach or process that, one, takes into account a student’s background capabilities and aspirations, two, identifies mentoring individuals and opportunities that have the motivation and the skills to design and deliver high-quality career-enhancing experiences and then, three, appropriately matches these two, right? So I think that there’s — you know, when we do research like this, right, and we provide employers and colleges and even students with information on how to enhance the internship experience, or in this case the mentorship experience, right, that’s going to benefit all of these stakeholders.
So I really like their approach, and it’s got me thinking about this sort of line of research, internships as mentorships, because I think a lot of times it’s more passive, right? So we advertise these internship opportunities via our portals, our job portals or whatever it is, right, and then we just kind of look at applications, and then we pick, and we hope for the best, right? But I think the intentionality with which the Coast Guard Academy and their Institute of Leadership uses when they partner students to mentoring institutions and individuals and organizations can help inform the way we might then think about internships. So not a passive process but really an active matching process.
And I will add that their intentionality has also done a lot to address many of the equity and justice concerns that we think about when we discuss internships, right? So if we think about, you know, some of the barriers to opportunities for many students, particularly women or minoritized students, right, who might not just have either the knowledge or the opportunities or the access to take advantage of these opportunities, if employers and college institutions become more active and take a more deliberate role in partnering students with institutions, with organizations, with employers, right, we can help to overcome some of those barriers that we know historically prevent equity and justice in this realm.
>> Matthew Hora: This is great, Sean, and this is one of those conversations where I wish that the person I’m speaking with was writing down everything they’re saying because it was so rich and full of information. And luckily we are recording this.
>> Sean Rogers: I was going to ask, are we recording this?
>> Matthew Hora: Yeah, and we’ll be able to provide a transcript on our center’s website within several days. So for those of you wondering about that, yeah, we’ve got you covered. So there’s a couple other questions that came up, and one of them has to do with one of two elephants in the room right now. The first elephant I will talk about is online internships, and this is a question that Kathleen raised as well, can you talk about, you know, some of the differences you may expect to see, if any, between a traditional on-site internship and an online or remote experience with respect to, you know, task design, supervision, and the crux of Kathleen’s question is do you have any suggestions for how employers can address the social aspect of, you know, the internship experience within a remote setting. So we’ve got a couple questions in there, but there’s a lot of people moving to online internships right now, and from our perspective as a research center, it’s kind of unexplored territory. There’s not a whole lot of research on the topic. So I’m just curious to hear any of your thoughts on any of those issues I just mentioned.
>> Sean Rogers: What an outstanding question, and it couldn’t be more timely given everything that we’re dealing with. So my short answer is employers, employing organizations, and colleges and students have to remain mindful of work design and the quality of job structure in an online environment as they would in a residential or in-person environment. These are many of the same things that we’re — many if not most of us are affiliated in some way with a college or a university. These are many of the same topics we’re dealing with right now as many of us, if not most of us, are working remotely, right, and questions about how do we continue our work in the same high-quality manner that we deliver when we’re on campus. And from those who teach online, online instruction; all of us, you know, or most of us around the country had to make the pivot to online instruction. And there are so many conversations — I have one later today with the president of my university and stakeholder groups — about, you know, how we ensure or maintain the quality of the learning experience in an online setting.
And the same question has to be asked of, let’s say, internships. And so can we do that? Yes, we can do that, right? I think many of these same characteristics apply whether you’re talking about in person, whether you’re talking about online or in any type of working environment. Let’s take those three buckets or categories, task characteristics, knowledge characteristics, and social characteristics, and we’re going to place an emphasis on the social characteristics because that is one that, you know, was asked specifically in the question but which also becomes even more important in an online environment, right? So the tasks — you know, to the extent that individuals are working on, you know, tasks or duties that don’t require them to actually be in person, right, they’re doing many of the same tasks that they would be doing on site anyway. You know, a lot of times at least, in my industry in the business world, somebody gets an internship, and they are sitting at a computer, and they’re doing work. They’re doing analysis or they’re on a phone making sales calls or they’re doing whatever else, right? So for the folks who are transitioning to online internships, they’re going to be doing many of the same tasks. And we need to make sure that those tasks are structured in a way that allow them to derive maximum benefit. The knowledge characteristics, right? To what extent are they able to bring their knowledge and skills and expertise to bear, similar with the task, right? You just have to make sure that — and employers, right? When I say you, I’m talking about employers need to make sure that we’re not giving folks busy work, right? Or we’re not sort of filling an agenda, but we’re really giving them meaningful, right, and significant projects and work that allows them to sort of demonstrate their technical expertise.
Now let’s deal with the social because that’s extremely important. You know, we’ve all in the past few months, whether or not you’ve used them before, have become intimately familiar with all of these platforms that allow us to do things like what we’re doing right now, right? So this happens to be a webinar in nature, or whether you’re talking about Zoom or whether you’re talking about Webex or you’re talking about Microsoft Teams or Google whatever, right, there are many platforms that have allowed us to remain virtually in touch. And also we have, you know, our phones, and we have other things that allow us to communicate. And in this virtual environment, it’s important for us to leverage those in smart ways so that we can provide feedback to our interns. And that sort of information that enables them to, one, know whether or not they’re doing a good job, and then, two, improving or making corrections as needed. Because we have to remember, one of the earliest characteristics in that job characteristics model, the Hackman and Oldham model from 1975 and 1976, was feedback, feedback from the job, right? And then Morgeson and Humphrey in 2006 added feedback from supervisors and others, right? So employers really need to take care, especially in this environment where, you know, you don’t have the everyday personal interaction, take care to provide that necessary feedback. And even that, you know, developmental sort of praise. And just letting folks know that they’re on target and on track in this virtual environment is something that is of utmost importance. But yes, I think we can do it. Is it a heavy lift, right? Yeah, probably. A lot of firms are learning how to do things in new ways, particularly smaller organizations which might not have maybe in their history all of the complexities in terms of operation that many of these large organizations do. But still, you know, employers do well to really pay attention to job design.
>> Matthew Hora: Yeah, thank you for that. And this will be a topic we’ll be studying out of our center, actually, starting today. We’ll be looking at the micro-internships offered by Parker Dewey. And one of the interesting things that has come up as we’ve thought about these micro-internships, and it’s related to what you’re talking about, is that some fields and some disciplines are not represented at all because it’s like some tasks simply cannot be replicated in this environment. I think in some of the skilled trades, I know there’s some community colleges that are doing fantastic work in having students, you know, take exams in welding or things like that in a virtual space. But it’s pretty challenging, and, you know, we’ve noticed the offerings at Parker Dewey are almost exclusively in business, finance, you know, some of the professional jobs where students can do what you just mentioned, make sales calls, you know, type away at a computer. So do you have any thoughts on that, just that fact that this remote or e-environment may be sidelining entire fields or professions?
>> Sean Rogers: Absolutely, right? And so that’s a — you know, before we were talking about sort of virtual internships generally, and now we’re kind of honing in here. And I’ve learned — you know, that area is kind of new to me, so I’ve been doing some reading. I’ve been learning about it, right? And I can see it being a sort of — you know, it has its pros and it has its cons. Certainly in one way it may — not necessarily — but it may make it easier to get work out to individuals and then allow individuals to take advantage of the opportunity to perform work, which then gives them something tangible they can list on their resumes that boosts or at least helps their employability in the future.
On the other hand, I have a ton of concerns about not only access and opportunity, but also about — and this goes back to the nature of job design — about whether the performance of microtasks — or how do I define it — or how the performance of microwork influences a person’s perception of the quality of that work, their engagement with that work, and what it means for their vocational development. What do I mean by that, right? So one of the earliest — from the job characteristics theory, and this was carried on through the work design questionnaire — one of the earliest measures was sort of task significance, right? So, you know, if I’m teaching a management class, I come up all the way through — you know, I’m talking about pre-industrialization work like craft work, people actually making whole things, and then I talk about how scientific management, Fordism and Taylorism, and all of that kind of broke it down, right, and said, “Oh, okay, you know what? We can break work down into its smallest pieces. We can farm it out, right, and that really helps with the efficiency of the productivity process.” No doubt about it, it does. But that approach wreaks havoc on the individuals experienced with the work because now you’ve broken my line of sight between the work that I’m doing and the larger purpose and meaning of work, right? And so, yeah, I’m doing this one small thing, but I don’t really understand how it contributes to the project’s contributions or how it affects customers or how it affects a community. And so I become detached, psychologically detached, from that work, and it becomes less important to me, less meaningful, less whatever, right? And so I would very much be worried about when we start to break work down because we already have issues with internships because they tend to be limited in duration, right? We’re talking about three, four, five months, however long, right?
So a lot of times, you know, one of the problems is these interns don’t get to see a problem through, right, or a project, I should say, a project through, right? We don’t get to see the fruits of our work. And for us that actually work full time, you know that seeing impact, seeing how your work influenced stakeholders, is an important thing to you, right? So how much more do we lose that if we really kind of task out work into its smallest parts? I fear that you have many of the same worker-level reactions that you had to scientific management in the early 20th century. I’m talking about assembly-line work, right? And, you know, my Ph.D. is in industrial relations, right? So you think about the labor strife and, you know, just the problems that we had with the deconstruction of work and the havoc that that wreaked on individuals, I worry about that. That said, I don’t completely discount this notion of micro-internships or microtasking, but I think we need to carefully think about how that affects all of these stakeholders that we say are the beneficiaries of the internship process in the first place.
>> Matthew Hora: Thank you, Sean, and I’m sure I speak for more than a few people on this webinar. I feel like this has been a great lesson in industrial relations and management for those of us who aren’t scholars in your field. So we have a little bit more time, and if you have any questions for any of the attendees on this webinar, again, this is the first one that we’re doing as a center. It’s been great. We’ve had over 50 people on this webinar from across the country. And next week, we’ll be having one with Julia Freeland Fisher from the Christiansen Institute about some of the topics that Sean and I have been talking about. There we’ll focus on social capital and social networks. So if you have any questions, please put them in the chat.
And my last question, Sean, has to do with the other elephant in the room, and that’s the civil unrest and the focus on racial justice that’s happening in our country and now the world and that is leading to some of our cities to be on fire. It’s something that many in higher education are paying close attention to for those of us who have engaged in education of our students about some of these structural inequalities. But, you know, I’ve been wondering myself, and I’ll pose to you, what does all this have to do with internships and the type of work that we may be asking students to do? What are some implications of the issues being raised around the protests of George Floyd’s killing for the students that we’re working with or just the internship model? Do you have any thoughts on that?
>> Sean Rogers: Yeah, Matthew, thank you so much for, one, acknowledging what’s going on, acknowledging the killing of George Floyd, and this is such an important question and topic that we have to deal with as scholars, as higher-ed professionals, and how much time do we have to deal with this?
But before I answer that, I’m going to circle back. I’m going to circle back to that, but let me answer one question that I saw pop up in the chat window, and I apologize if I’m looking down and right sometimes. I’ve got my chat window kind of out of the way of the camera. So I saw one pop up about how we implement a sort of proactive deliberate matching model like the one I described, the Coast Guard Academy and their Institute for Leadership, you know, implements in a resource-constrained environment, right? So that’s such an important question. Because I’ve worked — you know, most of my academic experience has been at large, sort of flagship universities. Big land-grant universities, right? And, exception, there was my time at Cornell, which is still a big sort of land-grant university but, you know, sort of a different type of university. And it’s very evident how variations in resources affect the capabilities of these higher-ed professionals to execute many of these great ideas that we have and also the student experience. And so when you’re talking about a resource-constrained environment, or at least, you know, an environment where you don’t have an entire center that has its own building or whatever to do kind of career development. Which is certainly kind of what I’ve experienced, at least at some institutions. Particularly how do you do this matching well? And if you buy into the notion that it can be done and that it’s important to identify employers and identify individuals who can help on the mentorship side, if we’re talking about internships as mentorships, and then we need to look at the student side, I would proffer that in addition to something more systemic and institutional, you can also equip the individuals in your colleges to execute this function. Individual professors, individual leaders or whomever.
And so what do I mean by that? So I personally — you know, when I meet with students in my office or they express what it is they want to do, right, I do everything I can — particularly with my own professional connections and network or whatever — I do what I can to do exactly what the Coast Guard Academy does but just on an individual level to try to find opportunities and match these people with experiences that I know might benefit them. So as a professor, I’m calling, I’m activating my own networks and saying, “Hey, you know, this person is going to apply for this position. I just wanted to give you a heads up and here’s why I think it’s a great match, and I hope you consider this person,” right? So I think there’s some individual-level things we can do as well as or in addition to or in lieu of sort of hiring a bunch of leaders and staff members, you know, to do this work, particularly in an environment where we can’t necessarily afford that.
All right, coming back to the question of the hour, right, which is what do we do. This has been personally important to me, right? So I grew up at a time — you know, we were talking before the webinar started about, you know, Los Angeles Lakers and going to games, you know in the ’80s and the ’90s, right? So I was going into high school, right, when we had the L.A. riots of 1992 following, you know, the Rodney King verdict. And I lived through that. You know, I’m born and raised South Central Los Angeles. I was sort of in the middle of it. My city was burning. You could look outside; not on TV, you could look outside the window and see fires. And we’re unfortunately at a similar flashpoint, not just in Los Angeles, but in cities all around this country.
And so what does that mean for, then, what it is we study, and what it is we do in our everyday lives? I think it’s extremely important that as higher-ed professionals, as faculty members, as people who are invested in and work every day contributing to the future of our workforce, one, we need to acknowledge what’s going on. So that’s why I said I appreciate you acknowledging that. And from what I can see — and I have a lot of friends on social media and Facebook who are professors elsewhere, and I’m plugged into a lot of different universities — from what I can see, some institutions are doing a better job of acknowledging than others. And I think a lot of that just stems from, you know, do we even know how to acknowledge this, right? Do we have the expertise to be able to acknowledge this? And if you don’t have sort of diverse representation, even at your highest levels at the university level or college level, you just won’t even know what to do or say, right? So I appreciate the acknowledgement. And a side note, I think this is then a call for we need to have sort of diverse representation at the highest levels in our universities and in our colleges. And as we demand in business organizations or whatever else. So the acknowledgement piece.
And then we have to recognize how this is affecting all of our students. So all of our students are taking this in. They’re translating this in different ways based on their own backgrounds. Some of the students are engaging in activism, whether that’s, you know, in person in the protests or whether that’s, you know, just through messaging or what have you. So we need to understand how this is affecting our students. And particularly our students, our racial minority students, our black students, and other students who might be especially affected by this. And then we need to understand how this is going to affect outcomes, right, or their futures and their future opportunities.
And hopefully this is a call for us to be — you know, I preach — when I talk about diversity and inclusion, I do some work in the employment discrimination space and the D and I space more broadly — I talk about intentionality. So lots of business organizations, a lot of our Fortune 500 firms have come out with these statements about, you know — so they’ve acknowledged, which we appreciate, and they’ve said, you know, this is what we aspire to do or be, but then you don’t see much action, right? And we haven’t historically seen much action, and, you know, if I were to sort of be a pessimist, I would say, “Okay, you know, once this all blows over, are you going to be talking about this in 2022, 2023, and 2025?” Probably not if we’re not in sort of the same period of tension. I would challenge higher-ed professionals, career-development professionals, faculty members to think along those same lines. You’re saying the right things now if you’re indeed acknowledging at all, but how are you going to actualize and how are you going to put into practice some of the justice and equity issues that have led to this in the first place, in the workforce? And I think this is a call for us. You know, I would encourage all of us on the phone to really just, you know, one, be willing to speak about these issues, two, ask questions of others and of yourselves. Am I doing everything that I can be doing to fix our social ills, fix racial ills that exist in this country? And then really kind of take it upon yourselves to act; to really say, “Look, I am going to do everything that’s within my power to make sure that I’m not contributing to disparities and access and opportunity.” And hopefully we can get there, right? Hopefully we can get there as a society. Hopefully we can get there as higher-education professionals. But it will take individual-level contributions. So thank you very much for asking that question, very important, very timely.
>> Matthew Hora: Thank you, Sean, and again I’m glad that we have all this on tape so that we could, you know, mull over a lot of what we’ve been talking about, but especially what you just said. And so we’ve come to the end of our webinar. I just want to thank you again for taking the time out of your day to join us, Dr. Rogers, on this first inaugural webinar of our center at UW-Madison. I’m glad we haven’t had any technological, you know, failures which sometimes happen, but I just want to deeply thank you, and I’m appreciative of the work you’re doing. And we’re going to be closely following all this stuff coming out of your shop.
>> Sean Rogers: Very good. Thank you so much. I appreciate this opportunity. I appreciate everyone who dialed in today. I see a lot of the comments and the thank-yous. It was a pleasure. It was my honor to share the work that I’m doing, my colleagues and I are doing, and I look forward to seeing all of the great stuff that’s going to come out of the center there at University of Wisconsin-Madison. I am just excited to continue working on and talking about this very important topic, so thank you, Matthew, thank you to Amy, and thank you to everyone there for allowing me to participate.
>> Matthew Hora: Great, thanks again, Sean, and have a great day, everybody, and stay safe.
>> Sean Rogers: Thank you, everyone, take care.
>> Matthew Hora: Bye bye.