Earlier this year,  the company I work at, Blue Link, hosted some university students on an “Extern” job shadowing program (see http://www.careers.utoronto.ca/progServ/extern.aspx). Our technical staff had university students observing them as they performed their day to day work activities, providing some explanations and Q&A.  The students were pleased with the experience, and you’ll see some of their comments later.

But for me, the most interesting aspect was the fact that our employees reported the same benefit: we also learned a great deal from the experience. (I’ve often found that teaching a subject is the most effective way to master it. It seems that this applies even to the simple act of sharing what you do and explaining it. )

For example, when developers had to verbalize their thinking on design decisions, and explain their reasoning to the externs, they were more clear (in their own minds) about the choices they made. A technical support analyst, after reviewing the triage guidelines with the Externs, is now more comfortable with the process and the reasoning behind it.

The following are comments made by the students, as supplied by Ron Wener, the program coordinator:

  • The positive aspects of my placement experience would be the workers networking among themselves and with their customers.
  • Workers helped each other out in very positive manner. There was no competition among the workers.
  • Another good aspect was that every worker had the knowledge each others’ work and that their work changed day to day.
  • Every day was a new day with something new to work on for them.

I strongly endorse giving back to the community, and programs like Extern and Outplacement are great examples of how companies can do just that – and perhaps gain unexpected benefits along the way.