The federal government is trying to bring 35,000 federal interns on board this year, after the number of positions for students dropped by 90% in a decade.

To do that, it must do more than simply expect students to flock to and sift through thousands of opportunities.

So, in anticipation of internship application season, which usually peaks each year in the fall for programs starting the following summer, the Office of Personnel Management on Tuesday unveiled the Federal Intern Experience Program, which includes virtual trainings on how to progress in a career, mentoring from outside agencies, a speaker series, new-hire Q&As and an online intern hub that has answers to frequently asked questions and other resources for prospective hires.

In February, the agency created an internships-only vacancies board within USAJobs. The June 27 memo, penned by OPM Director Kiran Ahuja, puts the responsibility on agency supervisors to make sure that internships at the federal level are a worthwhile experience in order for them to succeed at reaching broader recruitment goals.

There are still lingering barriers that federal internship programs encounter when competing for talent. For one, some agencies advertise their openings too late; many private sector internships open their applications in late summer and fall for the following year and students hear back in the winter. The onboarding process may also take too long, and students accept other offers. Moreover, it’s critical that interns are fully integrated and given meaningful work once they accept an offer, said Michelle Amante, vice president of federal workforce programs at the Partnership for Public Service.

“If you don’t have agency commitment to really ... create opportunities for young talent, really nurture them and foster a commitment to their success when they join the agency, then none of this works,” she said in a January interview.

The other barrier is money, as is so often the case when agencies try to expand a program.

“There’s no centralized funding for interns,” Amante said. “That is part of why it takes leadership commitment to make this happen because [agencies] have to be willing to allocate money from their personnel budgets to build an intern pipeline.”

In the meantime, OPM has also committed to reforming the governmentwide Pathways internship program, which includes Presidential Management Fellows. This program takes a lot of the brainstorming work out of the internship operations process, as there are preset rules and eligibility criteria that agencies can adopt to fit whatever job they do.

OPM has not yet issued proposed rules about how it intends to change the program.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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