Monday, August 23, 2010

Experience before training, part 2

My blog post on Aug. 13 has generated several comments, a discussion on the  Archives and Archivists email list, private emails and a Meebo chat session.  I guess it touched a nerve!

While several people noted that graduate programs require internships where students receive experience, the heart of the blog post is about having students obtain experience BEFORE they enter grad school.  As Rebecca commented, "experience does help give some perspective prior to school."  Peter noted that "[s]uch work experience would give people a better idea of what the profession is like."  In an email exchange, it was suggested that any type of work experience would serve a student well because it would provide knowledge about organizations, customer services, etc.  Indeed, a hiring manager would want a candidate to have some work experience in order to prove that the candidate can/will work!

A few students (or recent graduates) felt that it was difficult to obtain an internship.  The fact that an organization has to create an appropriate internship then supervise the intern can make them a bit harder to find.  It should be noted that some institutions truly rely on interns in order to move new projects forward.  Ben comments that some internships contain more clerical work than they should, but I have to wonder if that could be because students haven't had enough practical experience?

However, in obtaining experience before entering a graduate program, a person might volunteer in a cultural heritage organization doing whatever needs to be done.  No matter the job, that person is going to get a "peek behind the curtain" and have a better understanding of what that type of organization does.  Some institutions are also very reliant on volunteers and so a person should be able to find an opportunity.  If a person wants to be a corporate librarian, will he be able to volunteer in a corporate library?  No, but he could volunteer in a library somewhere. 

A couple people noted in email their long history of working in libraries  (or archives or museums, if appropriate) while a student in school (before entering a graduate program).  These people did clerical/paraprofessional work, obtained basic knowledge about library operations, and better understood if they were making the correct career choice.  Once they graduated with their master degree, these people became candidates with experience that made them more attractive to employers. While they might not have had extensive professional experience, they each could point to a track record.

Cool signWill it always be practical to obtain experience before someone enters training? I suspect that candidates for the  Culinary Institute of America (CIA) program sometimes say that they cannot obtain six months of experience upfront. However, the school continues to grow, so what we see as a potential barrier perhaps helps people truly understand if this is the correct path for them. And maybe it weeds out those that don't want it bad enough.

Finally, I want to point to part of the CIA's mission statement: (emphasis added)
We teach our students the general knowledge and specific skills necessary to live successful lives and to grow into positions of influence and leadership in their chosen profession.
The CIA's mission statement acknowledges that anybody can work in the profession, but their graduates are expected to rise to positions of influence and leadership.  We might take that six months of work prior to entering the program as proof that a person can work in the field.  The training then moves the person beyond just working in; it positions the person to do be more.  Shouldn't we want the same of our graduates?

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