What’s an Externship?

M.A. Ford’s participation in an externship program proved to be a win-win, bridging manufacturing and education as well as opening a door to community involvement in what could be a useful model for other shops and OEMs.


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Internship? Check. Externship? Che—wait, what?

That was my reaction when I heard about M.A. Ford’s participation in an externship program this summer. The Davenport, Iowa, tooling supplier hosted Greg Smith, an industrial technology and engineering teacher, as an extern.

As Quad City Times reported, an externship can involve those already in the professional workforce, like Mr. Smith, who helped M.A. Ford redesign part of its shopfloor layout. The result: M.A. Ford got a redesigned floorplan, and Mr. Smith got to take local, real-world manufacturing experience back to his classroom.

Mr. Smith teaches at Davenport West High School for Project Lead the Way, which provides K-12 STEM curricula, teacher professional development and partnership programs like externships.

The collaboration was part of M.A. Ford’s efforts to engage the Quad City, Iowa, community to promote manufacturing. In an interview with KWQC News, Joe Kueter, engineering director, said that having a teacher work with M.A. Ford via an externship is beneficial for both parties:

“They see what we do, what our needs are, and hopefully, they can take that back to the classroom to help prepare our future M.A. Ford employees.”

The company says it has engaged interns for a number of years, and plans on building its relationship with Davenport West and the community by hiring interns and externs, hosting shop tours, speaking at school job fairs, and even developing a job shadowing/career mentoring program with the Junior Achievement student workforce readiness organization.

But hold on—what’s the difference between an externship and an internship?

In an article for Forbes, Jacquelyn Smith explains that externships are being used for students as well as professionals, but they differ from internships in a few ways:

  1. Though M.A. Ford’s externship program lasted 6 weeks, externships are typically shorter, ranging from 2 days to 2 weeks.
  2. While an internship is more hands-on, an externship is basically “an intensive job shadowing opportunity involving a lot of observation.”
  3. Externships usually don’t provide college credit or pay.

Comparing these insights with M.A. Ford’s story, it’s clear that there are different ways to go about externships in terms of goals, duration and experience. But in this case, it provided an opportunity to bridge the gap between manufacturing and the community in a way that could be a useful model for other shops and OEMs interested in promoting manufacturing careers. Externships could be a unique way to make concrete a field that has become distanced from the experience of many people, teachers and students alike.

What opportunities do you see in this kind of shadowing program for professionals as well as students? Share your thoughts in the comments.