More Ways to Discover and Retain Talent

Why internship programs are a huge resource

We’re all dealing with a workforce shortage and the difficulty of finding and retaining marketing talent in this current job climate. Now is the time to implement a well-planned internship program to assist your organization in identifying talent that could add to your workforce and set up your organization for success in the future. This may not seem like a novel idea for casino organizations that have been running these programs for years, but any and every casino can benefit from offering similar programs.

As college graduation loomed and the reality set in of leaving my dorm days behind, I began applying to hundreds of jobs around the country. I was eager to start my career in marketing, public relations, or event management and had a vision of what that might look like. I pictured myself walking the casino floor as the entertainment director at a busy destination casino resort; or spending life on the road hobnobbing backstage with Ozzy Osbourne as an event manager at Ozzfest.

Prior to graduation, I worked as an intern in my hometown assisting with festivals and events. I spent the summer organizing events like the county fair and parade, brewfests, bluegrass festivals, motorcycle rallies, weddings, and maintaining the grounds and facilities. Essentially, I found myself not only helping to plan and organize events, but also cleaning bathrooms, pressure washing venue rooftops, and sweeping floors. Leading up to graduation I had very little experience in the marketing, public relations, and event management fields, aside from that internship. I learned quite a bit about the intricacies of event management, along with some of the more challenging logistics, and guest service elements that I hadn’t previously known.

An interest in entertainment, hospitality and marketing led to casino marketing-related positions becoming one of my top job searches. As Tribal casinos expanded their operations in the Pacific Northwest and CityCenter in Las Vegas neared completion, I was eager to get a foot in the door. I applied to countless casino marketing and marketing-adjacent jobs. Due to a lack of experience, I rarely received a call-back. Four years after graduating college and a very strong resume builder later, Swinomish Casino hired me as a marketing coordinator, and my love for the gaming industry had become a reality.

Internship Programs: Where to Begin

The first place to start is to set goals and expectations for your internship program. What are you trying to accomplish by starting an internship program? Which areas in your marketing department require additional resources? What are especially difficult positions to fill? Who and how will you manage the internship program? Research schools in your area to find out if they have programs that may feed talent into your casino marketing department.

I recommend starting your program with a 60 to 90-day paid internship. Decide the minimum and maximum number of hours you’d like your interns to work each week and explore tasks that you need extra resources to accomplish. Allow your interns to work with their college or university to earn college credits. Require that your interns are enrolled in an accredited college or university. Open up as many intern seats as you feel comfortable offering, which may vary greatly depending on the size of your organization. The number of interns you hire may simply come down to capacity on-site, budget available for hiring paid interns, and resource limitations for managing the program. Uncover any regulatory and licensing challenges that you may need to work through. Whether you have the capacity to utilize five or 20 interns, your primary goals should be: 1) to identify talent for your marketing team; and 2) to provide all your interns with an opportunity to learn and grow in their understanding of casino marketing.

Be sure that everyone involved is aware of the expectations, a route that can be followed for continued growth and success for the individual, and you can find yourself some incredible talent. Offering incentives is an important aspect of maintaining new talent and discovering just how far these individuals can go. The next step in their development might look like a higher tiered internship (more pay, longer length of time, more interesting opportunities, and bigger responsibilities), and eventually an entry level position in your organization. Ideally, these will become valued, loyal, and highly invested team members who began with you early on in their career.

Opening an internship program may provide your organization with just the boost you need to attract more talent and train them to work within your organization. Students may be excited to return home after college to work at your property. There are also an increasing number of students participating in online education, so they may already live nearby. You may already have team members working in other departments or jobs who are currently enrolled in a university with an interest in marketing who could be recruited into an internship program.

We recently posted an account manager position at Shank Marketing on LinkedIn and received only a few applications from people who met the criteria of having at least one year of casino marketing experience. We posted our marketing internship on LinkedIn shortly after, and saw the complete opposite as applications flooded our inbox with qualified applicants looking to gain experience in marketing. It showed me that there is a great interest in our industry from students looking to gain experience.

Internship Testimonials and Success Stories

Prior to opening our new hotel, Jumada Schwinden, the marketing director at Swinomish Casino & Lodge, and I started an internship program. The organization was growing rapidly, and it was imperative that we find talent to bring into our marketing department. The internship program became our grounds for discovering and nurturing strong candidates for future positions within the organization. She and I would meet regularly to discuss tasks for interns and discover ways to improve our program. Here are just a couple testimonials from past Swinomish Casino & Lodge interns who have continued in their casino marketing careers:

Robert Christensen, Director of Interactive at Choctaw Casinos & Resorts
“We work in one of the most exciting industries in the world! Casinos are the perfect setting for young people to have fun and to learn on the job. If your interns aren’t having a blast every day, then you’re doing something wrong! I recommend giving each intern dedicated time each week to design and work on their own projects. Not only will this give interns the enjoyment and learning they’re looking for, but it will provide your organization with exciting new business solutions/ideas. You hear about internship horror stories all the time. Stories about completing pointless busywork all day. That was not my experience at all! I was fortunate enough to intern with an organization that encouraged creativity and professional development. Because of that, my internship gave me the opportunity to think outside of the box, to fail, to succeed, and to develop new skills. The growth that I experienced as an intern has continued to help me throughout my career. If it weren’t for my early experiences as a casino marketing intern, I would not be where I am today.”

Jessica Noste, Creative Manager at Angel of the Winds Casino Resort
“My interactive media internship at Swinomish Casino & Lodge kick-started my now seven-year career in the gaming industry. It was an exciting introduction to the world of casino marketing and the different paths available for me to take.”

Jordan Crahan, Managing Director of Accounts at Shank Marketing
“It’s hard for me to overstate how significant my internship experience was to my career. I had never set foot inside a casino, let alone considered a career in gaming, before Justin recruited me to the Swinomish Casino & Lodge during my junior year of college. The entire team afforded me so many opportunities to learn, be creative, and try new things in a way that simply cannot be replicated in a classroom or many other working environments. I could not be more grateful for the foundation it provided me and the incredible people I’ve had the privilege of working with.”

One pseudo-unspoken result of working with up-and-coming business leaders – we also have an opportunity to learn and grow. Every internship program I’ve managed has made me a better leader and taught me invaluable lessons about managing people. I’ve gained insights into new social media platforms and technologies that were difficult to grasp. Many of our interns have skills and knowledge that we may not have experienced. As technology advances, dialogue and communication styles evolve, and the way that we do business changes, we have an opportunity to tap into fresh minds with fantastic perspectives that can, have, and will help our business.

Key Takeaways

  • An internship program will help you gain new talent, along with long-term team members.
  • Successful internship programs have a clearly defined path and timeline with room to grow.
  • Less time will be spent onboarding new entry level team members, and more time will be spent training “from the ground up.”
  • Some of your recruitment time and money can be repurposed towards current team member benefits and satisfaction.
  • You are investing in college students and recent graduates to give them hope, help them gain access into this incredible industry, and thrive early on.

At Shank Marketing, we love finding new talent to help us tap into the newest online marketing strategies and latest and greatest social media trends that may appeal to our clients. The benefits of investing in future generations and young minds are too great to ignore. Open your doors, and with it we hope that a new perspective will let your business shine anew.

Justin Shank 9 Articles