A new generation is knocking on the door to join the staff, and the city of San Jose is sprucing up the entrance.
With a philosophy of appealing to the community spirit of the next generation of city employees, San Jose has upgraded its internship program. The city has increased the number of interns as well as the sense of community among the interns. The latter effort includes the February unveiling of a youthful and exuberant Web site that is by and for the interns — it’s called “From Campus to City Hall.”
The new generation is accepting the message.
With a shaky national economy, “More students are looking at government employment as a good future and more of their parents are encouraging that,” said Terry Christensen, a professor of political science at San Jose State University. “And also Barack Obama has inspired a lot of young people to public service.”
For more than three decades, Christensen has placed about 200 interns with the city of San Jose (and many more with other local municipalities, as well). With the recent increase, this semester he is supervising 11 grad students (mostly in public administration) and a half-dozen undergrads working in San Jose city hall.
“The HR (human resources) folks are trying to create more of a community with the interns,” Christensen said, and it’s working. He cited as examples the Web site and work and social gatherings of interns. Christensen said much credit for the new energy in the intern program comes from support at the top from Mayor Chuck Reed and City Manager Debra Figone.
“Do you want to make a difference in the community?” Figone asks in her welcome to the internship Web site. “Do you like to help others? If so, I’d like to invite you to consider a career in local government!”
The “From Campus to City Hall” Web site was designed by Joyce Chen, an intern in the city manager’s office who studied digital and media arts at San Jose State. Before she saw on Craigslist.com a posting for a Web design intern, Chen said she had never considered working for a city. Now she is part of a community of interns. “We wanted to create something, “ Chen said. “Before, we had no Web presence.”
“It’s important to have knowledge, but experience is just as important, so being able to have a chance to create a real professional project is something you can only experience outside of class,” said Chen.
Interns and Human Resources staff recently presented the new Web site to a city manager’s “locker room” meeting of top management.
The city last year ran a pilot internship recruitment effort, said Kelly Spivey, a senior work-force strategist in Human Resources. In departments where internships were well established, HR left the status quo, Spivey said. In other departments where internships had been ad hoc or non-existent, HR provided some centralized office support — setting up interviews and vetting — to get them off the ground. A point made repeatedly, Spivey said, was: “You’ve got too much work to not take an intern. You might need two.”
Spivey said the city is now averaging 150 interns a year, up from 138 two years ago. An even larger increase shows in the city’s annual “job shadow day” with participation from high school students, as well as volunteering by high schoolers looking to fulfill community service requirements. HR is making plans for a “spring showcase” at city hall to show the variety of work by interns.