As the summer draws to a close, many of us will be bidding farewell to students who have worked with us over the summer, and be readying ourselves for a new batch of students for the fall. In some cases we’ll have them full-time, in other cases we’ll have kept on students in a part-time capacity.
I’ve been fortunate in past positions to have worked with a number of talented students from across the country (indeed, in my old job, we managed to hire students from almost every region of the country!). Like any employee, each student has their own needs and preferences in terms of the work environment. What I’d like to talk about here are some general strategies I’ve found to be effective. But first, a quick note:
Students aren’t replacements
There is often a tendency to treat students as replacements for other employees. I’ve heard of horror stories of students being relegated to photocopying duty, or tasks that would regularly be handled by someone else (especially during vacation time). If the function is one that typically is filled by an FTE, then an FTE should be fulfilling the function.
With that said, the aim of a student term is to have them learn. By all means, students should be assisting employees in their field (if they are there to learn about policy, they should be working with policy analysts).
Strategy 1: Workplans
One of the first thing we’ve done with our students, typically, is sit down and look at a workplan. The document outlines outcomes and milestones and serves as the starting point for a discussion of what the term will look like. Rather than a student getting caught up in routine functions, it can be nice to have specific projects outlined within the plan.
This means entering into a discussion with the student about what they would like to get from the term. Is there an issue area they would like to research? How do their interests align with work that the unit needs done? By providing a workplan, it allows the student and the manager to look at a set of objectives that can be worked towards over the course of a term.
Strategy 2: Capstone Project
One of the strategies I’ve generally found to be successful is the creation of a capstone project. In discussion the objectives of the student, there might be something that they want to write about or create that could be helpful to your unit. This project should have its own milestones, but the work should be led by the student themselves. In the end, this project should be able to be presented to a management team.
The project can’t be a make-work project (it needs to have some sort of potential impact). By having such a project exists, it serves a number of functions:
- Something to Show – It gives the student a finished product to add to their portfolio. It’s an actual accomplishment, rather than simply conducting routine functions on a daily basis.
- Time Management – Depending on your office, sometimes things can get very busy, very fast. It can often be easy to forget about students that you may have working in your office. This project ensures that they always have something to work on.
- Contribution to the Group – In a busy office, sometimes you lose sight of the bigger picture. The capstone project ideally will fulfil some sort of need in your unit that is a “nice-to-have”, and will contribute to your unit in a positive way.
Strategy 3: Encourage Extracurricular Involvement
In addition to gaining experience in the area of expertise of your work environment, encourage students to get involved in other areas. This includes encouraging them to go to various events (w2p, communities of practice, uxwg) and get involved in broader communities. Essentially, try to give them experience in the Government community, rather than just your specific office.
Overall, the aim is for students to learn something from their experience in government and decide if this is potentially a career path that they would like to follow. By providing objectives, a plan for the term, and encouraging them to explore the various facets that exist in the government community, we provide a broad experience for them to reflect upon as they work towards finishing off their various programs.