This week is it, the end of an era. Goodbye, internship. Started last April, I have been fortunate to experience a year-long internship at one of the most respected companies in business: GE. Not a quarter has gone by that my classmates and I haven’t heard of some human resources example from the world of GE. Admittedly, I have not seen many of these innovations at the plant level, at least not directly. Perhaps they are corporate keepers? Regardless, this has been an invaluable year for learning and development.
When I started at the Circleville Lamp Plant last April, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had never worked in a manufacturing environment, and my office, located inside a block building in the center of the factory, lacked a little bit in the “inspirational” setting department. But oh how each new engineering intern loved to look at those orange office chairs!
What the office lacked in ambiance, though, it made up for in opportunity. As a plant of about 230 employees working as tightly staffed as possible, each intern (or co-op as we were called) had to serve as a full member of the staff. There was simply no use for anyone who wanted to file and fetch coffee, only. Each quarter I served as an HR co-op recruiting engineering co-ops for four lighting plants. This entailed recruiting, selecting, interviewing, onboarding and tending to more than a half-dozen students who came through the door each quarter. I also assisted with staffing for permanent positions and created a harassment-awareness training program for the plant. It was a wealth of work and learning, and I relished every minute of it.
Being treated as a valuable member of the team, instead of as “just a co-op” made the difference between an average experience and an unforgettable one. My manager, a well seasoned HR manager who originally hails from Maine was equal parts sage, career advisor, manager and friend. As Darrell is fond of saying, “When you’ve been around for 110 years as I have, you learn a few things.” And each week I did my best to tap into that wealth of knowledge, knowing there is still so much I have left to learn! I’m sure he will receive more than one panicked email from me in the future as I start my HR career.
Already I’m missing all of them. Robin, the HR administrator who spent some 20 years on the floor before coming to work in the office, who easily answered all of my questions and shared in my exhaustion as a student and employee. Ruth Ann, who will celebrate 50 years at the plant this year, and knows all there is to know about life at CLP. Saundra, her daughter, who has worked in the warehouse since the late ’80s, and taught me about loosening up just a little bit. Tiff and Lisa, the plant nurses who keep everyone safe; Mike, the engineering manager who I collaborated with daily; and Steve, the plant manager who gave me a glimpse of running an organization, mixed in with tales from West Point and Iraq.
So for any MLHR students who are still searching for that perfect internship, remember that appearances can be deceiving. Beneath the old office chairs or factory setting might just lie the best learning opportunity you’ll have during your grad school years.