Work-Based Learning Manual

North Dakota's How-To Guide For Work-Based Learning


Chapter 7




What are Internships?

Internships are often viewed as culminating WBL experiences because they bring together skills and knowledge developed through previous career awareness, exploration, and preparation activities, connect them to classroom curricula, and apply them on the job. An internship is a WBL activity in which students spend consecutive days for a period of time (usually weeks) working for an employer to test their interest in a career with that industry, occupation, or employer and develop critical workplace and occupational skills. Unlike a summer or part-time job, an internship is connected to classroom learning and accompanied by structured reflection activities that help the student analyze and digest the experience. This “test drive” affords the student an opportunity to confirm his or her future education and training decisions or, alternatively, choose another path.

Internships differ from other WBL activities by offering students hands-on skill and knowledge development through work. Students may earn credits for internships as well. Internships differ from ordinary summer jobs in two significant respects. First, they include a detailed learning plan for acquiring specific foundational skills that are required in all workplaces and specific career skills that are integrated with the classroom curriculum. Second, interns are supervised by school, district, or REA employees (in addition to workplace supervision) before, during, and after the internships. These school-based supervisors help students prepare for their internships, make site visits, confer with interns and their workplace supervisors, assess and document progress on the learning plans, and convene periodic meetings of interns to reflect on their experiences. Interns should not fill positions that otherwise would be available to part- or full-time workers.

Internships offer employers the opportunity to get to know the next generation of employees, benefit from their work, and provide leadership development opportunities for the employees who supervise interns.

Which Students Participate in Internships?

Internships are typically offered to students in both academic and CTE classes who are going into their junior or senior years of high school. Students are best prepared to intern after they have engaged in the full continuum of WBL activities (e.g., guest speakers, workplace tours, career fairs, informational interviews, and job shadows). Usually, student interns are expected to have had some form of workplace experience (e.g., part-time/summer job or job shadow). Other eligibility criteria options are discussed elsewhere in this chapter.

How are Internships Structured?

Internships are usually planned for the summer, but it is possible to structure them as after-school or weekend jobs during the school year. This chapter assumes the internships will take place in the summer; if a school-year design is selected, the same implementation steps would apply, perhaps with different timing. For summer internships, REAs and school districts will need to ensure that adequate school-based supervision (by a teacher, counselor, REA staff member, or other professional) is provided and included in the budget.

The length of an internship can vary. Because North Dakota students can earn one-half credit for 75 hours in the workplace, internships are often structured to be a multiple of 75 hours. Decisions about the number of hours required for an internship and whether internships are paid and/or credit-bearing are made at the local level. Internships should be complemented by structured student reflections before, during, and after the internship in order to connect a student’s learning in the workplace with his or her academic work.

The Resources section provides some information about two programs that may be of interest to schools and REAs as they plan their internship programs: Cooperative Work Experience (CWE) and Operation Intern.

Ideally, internship programs are large enough to offer internship opportunities to most juniors and seniors in a school. Where this is the case, most of the coordination is done at the school level by teachers, counselors, and/or career advisors, although employer recruitment may be led by the WBL coordinator. As few ND high schools or districts have the capacity to support an internship program of this scale, this chapter is written to reflect the larger role WBL coordinators are likely to play. However, school-based staff members need to assume more significant roles than for other WBL activities, because internships should be integrated with school curricula. Significant school-based pre-internship preparation, support during internships, and post-internship reflection activities are all required for successful internships.

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How to Implement Internships

Successful internships require collaboration, communication, and preparation by many stakeholders. The process involves recruiting employers willing to provide internship opportunities, preparing students for internships, preparing the employees who will supervise interns, designing internships that will benefit both students and employers, and providing close school-based supervision and guidance before, during, and after the internships.

Implementing internships can be a complex, time-consuming process that begins early in the school year and extends through the summer into the following fall. As noted in the Introduction, the following steps should be followed when starting an internship program.

  1. Convene the stakeholders needed to assist with implementing internships. These include: employers; employer or professional associations such as chambers of commerce; school administrators, teachers, counselors, and career advisors; and REA staff members.
  2. Determine the scope and structure of the internship program, including policies that will govern student selection, intern supervision, and the awarding of credit (see table below for details on the decisions that will need to be made).
  3. Estimate budget requirements for costs such as internship supervision during the summer and (possibly) stipends or other incentives for interns.
  4. Assess students’ career interests in order to target the right employers for recruitment.
  5. Recruit employers to host internships and work with them to structure internships that will benefit students, employers, and workplace supervisors.
  6. Select students who are interested in internships and meet the selection criteria.
  7. Facilitate employers’ interviews of student candidates for internships and allow the employers to make the final selections.
  8. Prepare students for their internships.
  9. Ensure that adequate supervision is provided during the internships through site visits, regular communication with workplace supervisors and students, and troubleshooting as needs arise.
  10. Provide for structured student reflection, both individual and group, before, during, and after their internships.
  11. Obtain evaluations of the activity from students and employers. Review school-based supervisor reports as well.
  12. Compile, document, and share results of these evaluations with key stakeholders.
  13. Provide structured opportunities (both directly after and during the fall terns) for students to reflect about their internships and how they connect to their coursework and future education and career plans.
  14. Recognize participating stakeholders, especially the host employers and the students.

The following text provides more detailed descriptions of the tasks entailed in implementing a well-organized internship. These steps are presented in the form of a time line, starting early in the school year before the following summer’s internships. The time line is flexible and can be condensed, but proper planning is essential.

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Suggested Implementation Time Line

Note: Throughout this manual, the term WBL coordinator (typically REA staff member) is used to refer to the individual responsible for planning and implementing WBL activities. For internships, school-based stakeholders (counselors, teachers, and administrative staff) play important roles. The WBL coordinator should be sure to use the WBL database, as described in the Introduction, to track employer and school contact information as well as the tasks each has agreed to carry out with respect to student internships.

The WBL coordinator should refer to the overall WBL plan (see Introduction), if there is one, to ensure that implementation of internships for students from a specific school and with specific employers is coordinated with other WBL activities planned for the same school or employers. Both the employers and the school staff will appreciate it if the WBL coordinator initiates contact for student internships in that larger context. The WBL coordinator should be careful in communicating with employers to avoid confusion if recruitment for student internships and teacher externships is occurring in the same time frame.

The WBL coordinator is assumed to be the person responsible for completing or assigning the tasks listed below, except where otherwise noted. The term “school-based supervisor” is used to refer to the person most responsible for working with students at a particular school before, during, and after their internships. Because this involves working in the summer and outside school hours, it is necessary to hire someone to carry out this work – be it a teacher, counselor, career advisor, or other professional.

Nine months to a year before the internships

There are several fundamental policy decisions that will shape a local internship program. Such decisions should be based on conversations with multiple stakeholders, including REA leadership, school district officials, and school principals, counselors, and teachers. Making these decisions can take time, so the WBL coordinator needs to start the conversations well before the internship program will be implemented. WBL coordinators would be well-advised to start with a very small-scale program and expand later based on experience. Once a track record is built and the challenging issues resolved, expansion can go forward with greater confidence.

Convene the appropriate stakeholders (e.g., REA staff, school and/or district administrators, and employer organizations) to design the internship program for the following summer. The table that follows is designed to help staff identify internship policy and program design decisions for which stakeholder agreement is needed.

Number of internships desiredFactors may include:
  • Student interest.
  • Funding availability for summer school-based supervisors and other costs (see below).
  • Outlook for employer recruitment.
  • Available staffing size to manage the internships.
Paid vs. unpaidIf paid:
  • Funding source (e.g., employers, REA, school district, or local philanthropies)?
  • Hourly wage or stipend? How much?
  • Paid by whom?
  • Process for how time is recorded and payment is issued.
If unpaid:
  • Any other form of incentive to be offered (e.g., donated gift cards, clothing allowances, transportation costs, etc.)?
If some are paid and others are not:
  • Prepare appropriate messaging for students, parents, employers, and others.
Credit vs. non-credit
(1/2 credit =75 hours)
For credit:
  • If seeking credit for CTE students through the CWE program, follow the local policies and structure.
  • Can credit be awarded through a class for non-CTE students or for CTE students not in CWE? If yes, determine requirements (e.g., number of hours, student deliverables).
Without credit:
  • Are there other incentives students may receive?
Budget considerationsDetermine needs:
  • School-based supervision during the summer.
  • (Possibly) Extra compensation for school-based supervisors in the months before and after the internships.
  • (Possibly) Student stipends or incentives.
Identify funding sources and secure commitments:
  • REA or school district.
  • Host employers.
  • Business sponsors.
  • Local charities.
Student eligibility criteriaMight include:
  • Successful completion of career awareness and exploration activities.
  • Junior or senior school status in the fall after the internship.
  • Experience in a workplace (e.g., job shadow or part-time job).
  • Recommendation from classroom teacher or counselor.
  • Minimum attendance and/or grade point average.
  • Completion of application and interview process.
  • Completion of student registration/parent permission forms.
  • Ability to fulfill the time demands of the internship.
Expectations for employers
  • Creation of job description and learning agreement with specific goals and benchmarks.
  • Workplace supervision of intern.
  • Documentation and assessment of student performance.
  • Coordination and communication with WBL coordinator and/or school-based supervisor.
  • (Possibly) Compensation for interns or contribution to support internship program.
  • Evaluation at the end of the internship.
School-based internship supervision
  • Determine who will supervise internships (e.g., teachers, counselors, career advisors, or others) and to whom they will report.
  • Establish schedule for regular communications between WBL coordinator and school-based supervisors.
  • Determine expectations (e.g., pre-internship work with students, frequency of site visits and workplace supervisor consultations, progress reports, trouble-shooting, convening sessions for student reflection during internship, and post-internship activities).
  • Set compensation parameters for staff.
  • Provide orientation and training to school-based supervisors, as needed.
Expectations for students
  • Participate in internship preparation activities in class or after-school sessions (e.g., resume writing, interview skills, workplace behavior and dress code expectations, etc.).
  • Understand and commit to completing the learning agreement.
  • Arrange transportation to and from the workplace (e.g., self, parent, or other).
  • Be punctual and carry out assigned work.
  • Ask questions of supervisors.
  • Comply with all workplace rules.
  • Complete individual reflection assignments.
  • Meet periodically with school-based supervisor and other interns for reflection activities.
  • Complete an evaluation at the end of the internship.
  • Engage in post-internship reflection activities during the fall following the internship.
Other considerations
  • Applicable child labor and workplace safety regulations.
  • Liability insurance, sometimes covered under a school district policy, the employer’s policy, or purchased separately.
  • Worker’s compensation insurance, if intern is paid.

At the beginning of the school year

  • Communicate the policy and internship program design decisions to REA staff, principals, teachers, counselors, and career advisors. Principals may wish to designate an individual contact at their schools to work with the WBL coordinator on the internship program; that person would then be responsible for sharing pertinent information with colleagues.
  • Develop an internship program budget and identify the funding sources that will underwrite it. The budget should identify all anticipated costs, including: salary or stipends for students (if offered by the school, district, or REA); compensation for internship supervisor(s); liability insurance (if not covered by school district or employer policy); and recognition awards (such as gift cards) for students who successfully complete their internships (especially if they are unpaid).
  • Determine which costs can be underwritten by the school district or REA and which need to be funded from other sources.
  • Create a plan to solicit funding for the program, clearly identifying the process, the responsible parties, and their deadlines. Businesses, local charities, or IHEs may be asked to sponsor interns with a contribution to the program budget, even if they are unable to host interns.
  • Work with school staff to determine how to obtain student registration and parent/guardian permission   for internships. A sample form is provided in the Resources section.
  •  (Teachers[1]) Begin student preparation by reviewing career interests. Refer to Roads to Success:
    • Grade 11, Career 2, My Career Research, Student Handbook, Career Inspirations and Obstacles.
    • Grade 11, Career 2, My Career Research, Portfolio, Evaluating Top Career Choices 1
    • Grade 11, Career 2, My Career Research, Portfolio, Career Summary and Tasks
    • Grade 11, Career 2, My Career Research, Portfolio, Education Requirements
  • (Teachers) Have students begin to identify and research potential industries or employers where they would like to intern. A list of local employers from Job Service ND, the membership roster of a local chamber of commerce, their families, and the internet are good resources for this research. Each student should identify up to five local employers where he/she would like to intern.

[1] Where a task is designated for teachers to undertake, it should be taken to mean teachers, counselors, career advisors, or REA staff.

Seven months before the internship

  • Review the employer outreach information in the Introduction.
  • Begin employer outreach by targeting those that already have had successful experiences with WBL activities, have been identified by students, and/or have expressed interest in hosting an intern. A sample email for this purpose is provided in the Resources section. Expand outreach as needed, using the strategies listed below.
    • Use the WBL database to track employer contacts.
    • Meet with chambers of commerce and other groups (e.g., Rotary, Kiwanis, or other) to talk about internships and ask them to encourage their members to participate. If they are willing, make it easy for them to do so by drafting an email or newsletter article for them to use. The peer communication email in the Resources section may be adapted for this purpose.
    • Submit information to school newsletters, company newsletters, local newspapers, and other media outlets to recruit internship hosts.
    • Send information home with students for parent awareness and recruitment of additional employers.
  • Follow up on positive responses by asking willing employers to complete participation forms (sample in Resources section) to confirm their commitment. Ask each employer to designate a contact to work with the WBL coordinator and school staff to develop more detailed plans for the internship. This may be a human resources manager or an employee in a specific department who will supervise the intern on the job.
  • Make sure that all the policy and program design decisions listed in the table preceding this section have been researched and resolved.
  • Develop a protocol for working with employers to help them understand what it takes to host an intern and to plan a rewarding internship. The employer preparation information in the Resources section can be adapted to suit local needs and reflect the policy decisions that drive the local internship program. Every internship should include a learning plan that addresses foundational workplace skills and specific career-related skills. A sample learning plan template is provided in the Resources section.
  • Be prepared to answer questions about details like financial commitments expected from employers, liability coverage, etc.

Five months before the internship

  • Continue targeted employer outreach until commitments have been obtained for at least as many internships as planned.
  • Continue working with willing employers to shape the internships they will host, using the preparation information in the Resources section.
  • (Teachers) Have students write or update their resumes and introduce them to (or review) workplace behaviors and expectations.
    • Refer to Roads to Success, Grade 11, Unit 4, Job Shadow 2 and 3 for useful lesson plans and tools for creating resumes.
    • Refer to Roads to Success, Grade 11, Unit 4, Job Shadow 4 for useful lessons and tools for workplace preparation.

Four months before the internship

  • (Teachers) Continue work on student resumes and introduce students to the internship application (sample provided in the Resources section).
    • Refer to Roads to Success Grade 11, Unit 4, Job Shadow 4 for useful lesson plans and tools for resume writing and workplace preparation.
  • Recruit and select school-based supervisor(s) who will work with student interns and their workplace supervisors during the summer. These may be teachers, counselors, career advisors, or REA staff members. They will be responsible for: participating in intern preparation and orientation; leading student reflection activities during the internship; visiting interns’ work sites at least twice; touching base with students and their workplace supervisors periodically; reporting on student progress on their learning plans; troubleshooting any issues that arise during the internship; and leading post-internship reflection activities the following fall.

Three months before the internship

  • (Teachers) Develop a list of interested students who meet the criteria established for student eligibility and are likely to be available for the duration of the internship program. Consult with counselors and career advisors, and select only those students who, in their judgment, are ready for the responsibilities of an internship.
  • (Teachers or school-based supervisors) Have eligible students complete applications for the internship program (sample provided in Resources section).
  • (Teachers or school-based supervisors) Introduce students to job interview techniques and have them practice interviewing each other.
  • Match student applications with confirmed internship sites, identifying three candidates for each internship, if possible. (This will likely mean that each student will be a candidate for more than one internship.)
  • (Teachers or school-based supervisors) Have students send introductory emails to the employer contacts at the workplaces for which they are internship candidates. A sample is provided in the Resources section.
  • Facilitate interviews for candidates for each internship with the employer-designated contact person. The interviews should ideally be conducted after school to avoid disruption of students’ class schedules. They may take place either at the workplace or at school. If the former, make sure students arrange their own transportation; if the latter, be sure there is a quiet place available.
  • Ask employer representatives for their final selections of their student interns and communicate the placements to students, school-based supervisors, parents, and others, as appropriate.
  • Continue to match students with internships and arrange for interviews until all accepted students have been placed.
  • Schedule one or more workplace and school-based supervisor orientation sessions at times and locations that are convenient for all. The orientation agenda, a sample of which is provided in the Resources section, should address: timesheets; the learning agreement template and its specific components; strategies for communicating with youth; procedures for payment of interns (if applicable); the role of the school-based supervisor; provisions for individual and group student reflection activities; and documentation requirements for earning school credit. Orientation sessions should take place one to two months before internships start and should be attended by the employees who will supervise the interns’ work and the school-based supervisors. For those unable to attend an orientation session, special arrangements will need to be made for one-on-one briefings.

Two months to one month before the internship

  • Finish student interview and selection process.
  • Hold the workplace and school-based supervisor orientation.
  • Work with school-based supervisors to develop student reflection assignments and procedures.
  • (School-based supervisors) Conduct one or more orientation sessions for students. The agenda, a sample of which is provided in the Resources section, should address: expectations for the internship; strategies for communicating with supervisors and other professionals; workplace behavior; the learning plan; the role of the school-based supervisor; payment schedules (if applicable); reflection activities during the internship; and documentation requirements for earning credit (if applicable). If possible, parents should attend this orientation so that they can support their students in fulfilling their responsibilities.
  • (School-based supervisors) Make sure that student learning plans are completed and reviewed with the workplace supervisor, the school-based supervisor, and the student.

One month before the internship

  • Reconfirm that the workplace supervisor, school-based supervisor, and student all understand their roles and responsibilities. Make sure all interns have arranged transportation to and from the workplace.
  • Review logistics and procedures with the school-based supervisors and make sure that plans are in place for student reflection assignments and activities. If the school building is not open during the summer, an alternate location for student reflection meetings will need to be identified.

Two weeks before the internship

  • Send reminder emails to both workplace and school-based supervisors, confirming details of internship along with student names and contact information.
  • Be available to answer questions from employers, students, parents, and school-based supervisors.
  • (School-based supervisors) Schedule meetings or check-ins with workplace supervisors periodically throughout the internship.
    • Site visits are typically scheduled early in the internship and at about the three-quarters point. More frequent telephone or email check-ins are advised.
    • Be sure the workplace supervisor and the student intern are aware of whom to contact with any questions or concerns at any time during the internship.

One week before the internship

  • Reconfirm any arrangements that were not in place at the last check and send a quick reminder email to school-based and workplace supervisors and students.

During the internship

  • (School-based supervisor) Check in with employers on the first or second day of the internship to make sure student was prompt and the internship is off to a good start. Intervene with student and/or supervisor as needed.
  • (School-based supervisor) Conduct first visits to employer sites (generally after one week), reviewing progress on the learning agreement goals with the student and workplace supervisor. Skill attainment should be demonstrated and documented. If skill development is not progressing satisfactorily, work with the student and supervisor to reconfigure the internship.
  • (School-based supervisor) Send progress reports summarizing the students’ attainment of the skills detailed in their learning plans to the person to whom he or she reports.
  • (School-based supervisor) Collect student timesheets (see sample in Resources section) weekly and touch base by phone or email with the intern and the workplace supervisor. If the school district or REA is handling payment of salaries or stipends, pay checks can be delivered when time sheets are collected.
  • (School-based supervisor) Conduct second site visits (generally about three-quarters of the way through the internship) to review student performance. Review learning plan progress and submit progress reports.
  • (School-based supervisor) Distribute student reflection materials throughout the internship, as scheduled during the planning process. Review, track, and grade (if necessary) individual student reflection assignments during the internship. Convene student meetings for group reflection at planned intervals during the internship. As a local option, students who do not have internships but are working at summer jobs may be invited to join these discussions.
  • (School-based supervisor) Review student reflections promptly because students might identify issues and concerns that they do not mention during weekly check-ins or site visits. Intervene as needed.
  • (School-based supervisor) Maintain records for credit-earning options as needed and submit required paperwork.

One day to one week after the internship

  • (School-based supervisor or WBL coordinator) Send a thank-you email to both the employer and the workplace supervisor (which may be the same person in a small organization).
  • (School-based supervisor or WBL coordinator) Distribute internship evaluations to workplace supervisors, collect and review completed evaluations, and move promptly to follow up on negative responses. 
  • (School-based supervisor or WBL coordinator) Distribute internship evaluations to students.
  • (School-based supervisor or WBL coordinator) Analyze evaluations and identify common themes to be shared with the internship planning team, school-based staff, workplace supervisors, and students. Capture lessons learned to use for future program improvements.
  • (School-based supervisor) Complete a final report on each student’s performance on his/her learning plans, in consultation with the workplace supervisor, and share it with the student and his or her teachers and counselors.
  • (School-based supervisor) Have students complete thank-you notes to their workplace supervisors. Review the notes before students send them.
    • Refer to Roads to Success, Grade 11Unit 4, Job Shadow 7, Reflection and Thank-You Note for helpful lessons on student reflection and completing thank-you notes.
  • (School-based supervisors and/or WBL coordinator) Conduct a post-internship reflection meeting with all student interns, focusing on how their internship connects with the courses they will take in the fall. Present them with recognition awards (gift cards or other), if they were included in the budget.

At the start of the school year following internships

  • (WBL coordinator) Recognize employer hosts and supervisors. One form of recognition could be a celebratory event, where students showcase what they have learned. Co-hosting the event with a chamber of commerce or other business organization provides a wider audience and helps with recruitment for future internships and other WBL activities, while acknowledging the efforts of the employers that hosted internships.  Invite the school-based supervisor(s) and interns’ classroom teachers, counselors, career advisors, and principal.
  • (Teachers and school-based supervisors) Have students produce a culminating project or report on their internship experiences and how they connect to school curricula. Have students request a letter of recommendation from their workplace supervisors, which can be used when they seek employment in the future.
  • (Teachers or school-based supervisors) Have students engage in a reflection activity about a month into the school year to stimulate further reflection on how their school work connects with their future education and career plans.
  • (Teachers) Identify ways to use student internship experiences in the classroom to illustrate for all students the connections between academic curricula and career success.

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Internship Resources

Cooperative Work Experience (CWE): CWE places students enrolled in career and technical education (CTE) courses in short-term job placements that are directly related to their CTE subject areas. For more information about the CWE program visit As CWE is only available to CTE students, it is not addressed in depth in this manual, which is intended to help provide WBL experiences to all students. If the WBL coordinator wishes to pursue internships for CTE students through CWE, the local program structure and policies should be followed.

Operation Intern: Managed by the Department of Commerce, Operation Intern provides matching funds to employers hosting student interns in North Dakota’s five target industries: energy; advanced manufacturing; value-added agriculture; tourism; and information technology. The department also maintains a listing of internship opportunities. Operation Intern primarily serves postsecondary students, but it may have opportunities for high school students. For more information, please visit

Note: Forms may be printed with larger spaces for responses.

REA Outreach:

  • Email to employer
  • Email for employers to forward
  • Participation form


  • Student registration/parent permission form
  • Learning agreement
  • Employer and supervisor orientation agenda
  • Student orientation agenda


  • Preparation information
  • Evaluation


  • Internship application
  • Student introduction email to employer host
  • Student timesheet
  • Evaluation

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