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17 Jan 2021


Improving military spousal employment opportunities remains an important focus for the Department of Defense. One useful strategy for assisting in career development is facilitating work experience in the spouse’s career field of interest, particularly through internships. Generally speaking, an internship is defined as a practical work experience that provides relevant training to a worker in a specific field. Although internships usually lead to promising job prospects, the outcomes connected to internship completion may vary substantially. For example, internships may differ in length of time, and even work responsibilities. Recently, the Military REACH team wrote a research report on one of the most critical features of an internship, compensation. From this report, we have identified a variety of reasons why paid training opportunities may help springboard interns to future success.

Importance of Internship Compensation

Research on internship compensation shows that paid interns, compared to unpaid, tend to report more positive internship experiences and better employment prospects (e.g., greater overall satisfaction with the internship, more job offers). Although there is no clear-cut explanation for these findings, one reason advanced by researchers is that compensation informs interns that they are valued by the organization, resulting in a more positive perception of the internship experience and a greater confidence in their abilities. Another potential explanation is resource-based, as the provision of compensation can enable individuals to focus their efforts on internship duties without being distracted by financial concerns or having to divide their time and energy between the internship and simultaneous paid employment. That is, unpaid interns may simply have too many responsibilities due to working multiple jobs, and this may prevent them from investing the necessary attention to their internship experience.

Closely tied to compensation is the quality of training received during the internship. It is likely that companies and organizations that can afford to pay interns may also have high quality resources at their disposal. An important resource identified in the internship compensation research report is mentor/supervisor instruction. Our review of the literature suggests that interns who had mentors who were engaged in their work reported greater knowledge and skill acquisition. Further, this enhanced knowledge and skillset, coupled with working closely with supervisors, also allowed paid interns to leverage their positions to obtain permanent employment.

Proper training is vital for career success. As the Department of Defense seeks to utilize evidence based programming and resources to aid military spouses in their pursuit of education and career goals, partnering with organizations that can offer paid internships to military spouses is one prospect to consider. Such programs can assist spouses in their efforts to diversify their skillset and, ultimately, secure timely employment that meets their needs and expectations.

Read the Military REACH team’s full report about internships, Differences in Employment-related Outcomes Across Paid and Unpaid Internships, to learn more on the topic and to access the citations used in this piece.

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