Student trainee and paid internship programs have positive results but do little to influence long-term employee diversity in the USDA forest service

Michael J. Dockry, Sonya S. Sachdeva, Cherie L. Fisher, Laura S. Kenefic, Dexter H. Locke, Lynne M. Westphal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Women and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) employees are underrepresented in science and natural resource management institutions. Student and recent graduate trainee and internship programs have been used to try to address this in United States federal agencies over the last few decades. Our study evaluates how effective such programs are at improving U.S. federal workforce diversity. We used a comprehensive employee dataset from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service–which has the largest natural resource management workforce in the country–to analyze the demographic characteristics and career paths of paid interns from 1996–2017. We found that a majority of employees who started as interns later converted to permanent employment with the USDA Forest Service. In addition, Black and Hispanic interns were, respectively, 5 and 3 times more likely than White interns to work for the agency in permanent positions after their internships. However, people who started as interns had significantly shorter USDA Forest Service careers than those who started in permanent positions. White women entering directly into permanent positions typically advanced to higher pay grades through promotion faster than White women who entered as interns. Finally, male BIPOC interns involuntarily separated (i.e., were fired) at significantly higher rates than all other employees. Our study suggests that while internship employment programs can be an effective tool for hiring a diverse workforce, they are not sufficient to close the overall workforce diversity gap. In addition, only a small percentage of new hires every year are interns. To achieve a level of representation that mirrors the civilian labor force, our study suggests that internship programs need to focus on long-term employee retention and be of significantly larger scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0277423
JournalPloS one
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright: This is an open access article, free of all copyright, and may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, built upon, or otherwise used by anyone for any lawful purpose. The work is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication.


  • United States
  • Female
  • Male
  • Humans
  • United States Department of Agriculture
  • Internship and Residency
  • Salaries and Fringe Benefits
  • Inservice Training
  • Students
  • Excipients
  • Hyperplasia

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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