Working Alongside A Summer Student

One of the nicest things that happens in the summer months is the arrival of students in our office. We usually accept three or four; one of which is assigned to work on the team I’m part of. Our team is fortunate because we generally get a student who has previously in other summers worked shadowing a Caseworker and therefore has seen that side of the organization.

Here in our Employment Resource Centre, what we do is provide an opportunity for the student to experience both life in the Resource Centre itself, and assisting with facilitating workshops. If time allows, interest is there, and scheduling makes it possible, we’ve even had some students facilitate the sessions with an Employment Counsellor in the room but taken the secondary role.

What I love about the students we get is the infusion of energy and optimism. This year I really think we have had an exceptional student spend time on the team. Laurel excels in punctuality, positive attitude, willingness to help in any way possible, and she is always eager to help our clients with their various needs. And the one thing that I really appreciate in her is the initiative she shows.

Here I’ll give you two concrete examples of initiative. For one, she is proactive rather than reactive, and does not hesitate to get up off her chair behind the staff desk and go to the client and help out. This varies from the student who may have the necessary skills to assist, but sits and waits for the client to approach them and ask for help. This is a critical skill, because not everyone is comfortable approaching the desk which represents authority, and it’s easier to establish relationships with clients in their own space and comfort zone. Just walking around can get someone to say, “Hey while you’re here can you help me?”

Secondly, we have a whiteboard in the Centre where we write what’s coming up, or what room a workshop is in. What I’ve done when I’ve been in the room myself is to put up a motivational quote, or a job search suggestion etc. just to use the space and pass on information. I mentioned this board and how I’ve used it in the past to this student on one of our first days together. Guess what? Every single day Laurel looks up a job search tip on the internet or thinks one up and puts it up on the board before the clients come in…every day without exception. Now that’s initiative!

A month from now the students will be gone and with them, that infusion of fresh faces, energy, optimism and yes, those extra pair of hands and an easing of our own tight schedules. However far from appreciating them after they’ve gone, I’m happy to say that our students are very much valued and told that while with us. The result is of course they perform better.

And here’s a personal benefit that most staff don’t always recognize. Whenever someone new comes onto your team, there’s an adjustment/training period where you have to explain what it is you do, how you do it, why you do it a certain way, how you stay safe in your work, tips on making your job safer – more enjoyable, and improving the customer or client experience. In those mentoring and training moments, it’s like reviewing your own procedures. Do you for example find yourself saying, “This is how it should be done, and this is how I do it on the other hand”? If so, why are you not doing things the way you know they are expected to be done?

And the questions we get asked in return help us to pass on the thought processes behind policies, practices and decisions. And here’s an opportunity to do some shaping of a young protegé who one day might reflect back and realize how much they learned from you. Of course they’ll grow up and move on to be their own person, taking the best of what they’ve learned from all the people they’ve met and what others have shared with them too, but somewhere in there, maybe there’s a nugget or two of what you’ve passed on.

I remember with a smile a new student I had on my team years ago in another position. I was so eager to ‘get to them first’ before my co-workers passed on their poor habits and ill-chosen advice. A burned-out employee may not be the best person to assign to an aspiring student whose sponging up everything they can. However on the other hand, a burned-out employee might just rekindle some old but good behaviour because they are mentoring!

A summer student works out best I think when employees take the time to invest in the student and make the experience one they can truly take away with them. At the same time, a student can either add to the energy of a team or they can be a drain on productivity if they are entirely reactive and show little to no real enthusiasm or respect for the opportunity.

So I want to acknowledge Laurel here specifically for the truly positive impact she has had on me personally and on our team, and of course our clientele. Hopefully in return, we as a staff have had an impact on her for the good, and yes, I have offered to be a future reference should she need it!


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