Business Not as Usual: Attracting and Retaining Internship Providers

Presented by: Kenan A. Fishburne

The economy is slowly rebounding after the 2008 economic downturn in the housing and construction industries (Monthly Labor Review, 2010).  Interior designers and architects were among the hardest hit, resulting in a loss of valuable internship locations (U S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012).  With 80% of the design firms in the United States employing less than five employees (Winchip, 2013), there are fewer providers available for mentoring young designers through internships.  Proactively, both NCARB and CIDQ (formerly NCIDQ) have revised  timetables to allow students to count certain early internship experience toward work requirements for eligibility to take the professional exam.  These changes in the business climate must also be addressed by higher education interior design programs so internship programs remain viable.  

This study sought to answer the question:  What changes should academic institutions be making to internship programs that will result in internship provider retention?   Both a general literature review and a best practices review of industry and university internship programs were conducted to identify current internship issues.  A  23-question survey  was then designed to collect both qualitative and quantitative data through national  distribution to 600 practicing designers who are members of  ASID and IIDA,  yielding 119 responses.

Survey results have been divided into three sections:  The first focused on demographics and experience of providers; the second on status of current internship offerings and provider motivation; and the third on provider perception of  internship curricula including suggestions to make internship programs stronger.  

Responses indicated that 68% of 115 respondents were young designers who have practiced less than five years, with 77 percent of total respondents indicating they were not NCIDQ certified. 

Fifty-seven percent of the respondents had mentored an intern in the last five years, but 46 percent had reduced internship offerings  or stopped offering internships due to lack of work.  
Over 82% of mentors reported being conflicted in their motivation for offering internships. They want students to add value to their firm, but also feel a duty to be altruistic and responsible to the profession for mentoring the next generation.  

When asked about paid versus unpaid internships, mentors were evenly divided with 50% offering paid internships.

When asked what they look for when selecting an intern, they indicated that soft skills such as work attitude, punctuality, good attitude, and proper attire were essential.  They also indicated a desire for interns to have stronger business skills.  Over 85% said they would hire or help their interns look for work.

With a new economy,  increasing job accountability metrics, and a faster track to professional certification, internships are essential.   Programs may need to look beyond their current providers to retain and expand internship locations.  Asking internship providers for feedback on student preparedness may also provide “buy-in” and help close perceived gaps in student readiness.  Survey results highlighted the need to bring together academic institutions, students, and internship providers to make sure all benefit from the internship process.


  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Interior Designers, On the Internet, Retrieved on October 28, 2012, from
  • Byun, K. (2010). The U.S. Housing Bubble and Bust:  Impacts on Employment. Monthly Review. December 2010,3-18
  • Winchip,S. (2013).Professional Practice For Interior Designers in the Global Marketplace. New York, New York:  Bloomsbury Publishing, Inc.
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