Finding and Fostering Talent with Internships

Robert Eyler, Ph.D

Something near and dear to me is education. I have been a professor at Sonoma State University since 1995, so I am about to complete my 20th year on campus. In my time as the CEO at Marin Economic Forum, the teacher has become the learner; I have learned a lot about local politics, economics, and communities using Marin County as a living laboratory for almost every angle on these topics. In many ways, my experience at Marin Economic Forum has acted like an “externship”, where a faculty person goes into actual business, gets out of the academic bubble, and sees more about the real world.

Internships can do a lot of the same and more for students as they get closer to graduation from high school or undergraduate work at a university or college. One of the key ways in which Marin County businesses can reduce the lack of talent or the shortage of younger workers in professional positions. This is a lament I have heard since 2009 when I started at Marin Economic Forum, and this is not a new issue that local businesses face. However, it is something that internships can help as a bridge between a newly minted worker and possible job opportunities.

Dominican University of California, Sonoma State University, the College of Marin, Santa Rosa Junior College, and the Marin County Office of Education all have internship programs. The San Rafael Chamber of Commerce has a specific group of local business leaders focused on integrating more students with business and strengthening the pipeline of high-school students to local business opportunities. The Career Pathways Trust funding can further integrate workforce development with local employers. Marin Economic Forum has utilized an intern from Sonoma State University for the last two years.

One of the most sought-after skills is “soft” skills. These include presentation skills with tools such as PowerPoint, Prezi, and simple public-speaking skills. Other skills are sales skills and bargaining, where many jobs involve the direct or indirect marketing of the person, a product or a service. In many cases, there are contract negotiations that need to be addressed, for the employee, the business owner or for an organization. Colleges and universities are not great at building curricula around these soft skills directly. In some cases, students pick these soft skills up by force in certain classes or by osmosis through watching others.

The beauty of an internship is that students can get those soft skills in the midst of an actual (versus a virtual) business or organizational setting in the real world. One of the fundamental disconnects in higher education is the presumed skill base of professors to deliver a wide array of skills versus their specific knowledge based on their education and experience. Professors are generally not hired for their soft skills ability but rather for the hard-skills ability. We need to utilize the business community to not only test students’ ability on those hard skills but also to complement their education on the soft skills, from high school through graduate studies.

If you have an internship need, please see the links below, and contact one of fine educational institutions in Marin and Sonoma counties. As someone who did not take advantage of such opportunities as an undergraduate or high-school student, it is a major lament in my own academic career.

Dominican University:

College of Marin:

Marin County office of Education:

Regional Interns Page:

Sonoma State University (SSU):

Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC):