NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Have you noticed that interns are getting younger? It seems to be a national trend. Half of employers are either currently accepting applications from high school students for internships, or plan to this year, according to research fielded by Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm.

Forget prom and pep rallies, these days high school students should be building their resumes. Some 60% of companies surveyed said that students need to begin focusing on their careers in high school in order to compete for internships and jobs in the future. A clear majority -- 90% of companies -- agree that high school internship programs can help students get into better colleges, 89% say they'll have a competitive advantage when looking for a college internship or full-time job, and 83% said those internships will yield better paying jobs.

Why are businesses so interested in bringing on high school interns? Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding, says companies say they can learn from Gen Z.

"Aside from helping local high schools, the main reason is to capture their progressive ideas and learn from them," Schawbel told MainStreet. "High school students are always adopting the latest tech tools before everyone else and companies want to tap into that. Over 70% of the internships are in social media marketing, which was listed by LinkedIn as the top skill in 2013. The other main reason we found was that they want to start to fill their talent pipelines early so that those high school students become college interns and then employees."

Parents are pushing their kids to think about life-after-school, too. More than half (55%) of high school students (and 57% of college students) say that their parents are putting pressure on them to gain professional experience during school.

But young adults are ambitious, as well. Fully 72% of high school students and 64% of college students want to start a business someday. And 61% of high school students and 43% of college students would rather be an entrepreneur instead of an employee when they graduate college. Schawbel says it is a culturally-induced ambition driving Next Gen.

"Students have access to information, people and resources that older generations didn't have at their age," he says. "They get to watch TED Talks, tweet with entrepreneurs on Twitter and read just about anything by searching in Google. They've also seen teenagers successfully build businesses and sell them and college students drop out to build mega companies like Facebook and Tumblr."

The survey revealed the top three aspects that high school students are looking to get out of internships are new skills (92%), work experience (81%) and mentorship/networking (72%). The top three take-aways that college students are looking to get out of internships are work experience (89%), new skills (85%) and job offers (72%).

"It's well known that the economy is bad and that students aren't getting jobs when they graduate so they feel like they have to get started earlier in order to be more prepared later when they graduate," Schawbel adds.

The top qualities that companies are looking for when recruiting high school students are their interview performance (50%), a high academic performance (41%) and references (36%).

Half of employers say that the reputation of the high school matters when recruiting students for their programs.

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet