Another way to bring and keep skills in-house is through an internship program. Internships are defined by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) as: “A form of experiential learning that integrates knowledge and theory learned in the classroom with practical application and skills development in a professional setting. Internships give students the opportunity to gain valuable applied experience and make connections in professional fields they are considering for career paths and give employers the opportunity to guide and evaluate talent.” Hiring an intern already engaged in your company offers many benefits. An internship program will provide your company with an ongoing supply of employees who are already familiar with the job.
To ensure a successful outcome with your internship program there are three objectives to achieve: communicate clearly, assign appropriate tasks and be creative.
First and foremost in running an internship program is to communicate clearly with the intern what the job duties will be and what your goals and expectations for them are. Defining clear expectations will ease anxiety, which can lead to disillusionment and failure. Assign a mentor that allows for the intern to feel comfortable in approaching with questions and further instructions.
Secondly for your program to be successful is the assigning of intern-appropriate tasks. Gone are the days where an intern is expected to fetch coffee and re-fill paper in the copy machine. Today’s interns are looking for real-world, hands-on experience. The tasks will need to be useful to the company while achievable and productive for the intern performing the assignment. Following are some suitable intern responsibilities:
– Create support materials, such as charts, graphs, or other visuals.
– Scan industry media for news items; provide regularly scheduled updates.
– Research industry blogs providing weekly reports based on findings.
– Create a proposal on a social media strategy.
– Evaluate how your current social media strategy might be improved.
– Critique your company website.
– Plan and coordinate an event or meeting.
– Produce a video or slide presentation.
– Clean up a database.
– Source goods or search for lower-cost sources for high-volume materials.
The above duties will benefit your company while engaging the intern in industry related material. Along the way they will learn industry jargon, key skills needed to succeed and how to interact in a professional manner with other people.
Last but not least the third objective for intern success is to be creative. A preplanned intern program may be the ideal but not every intern will be able to dedicate a certain number of hours, at a certain time at a certain location. Come up with creative solutions to fit high potential interns into your program. Maybe you can allow your intern to work a few hours onsite as well as a few hours via a home office. Perhaps a reduced hour arrangement will be necessary for the intern to complete tasks while preparing for exams and finals. Finding interns at your local college will probably be your richest source of candidates but don’t rule out the potential telecommuting intern. Is there a college in another state that produces quality graduates for your field, if so, consider hiring an intern from that college. The internet makes it easy to interact with your intern from afar. Meetings via Skype are a simple solution to a need for face-to-face interaction. Bottom line, don’t rule out a strong intern candidate due to time constraints, location or some other road-block that can be overcome with a little bit of creativity thrown in.
For the most part, today’s interns expect to be paid. Technically you can offer an unpaid internship to a potential candidate. Before you engage an intern in an unpaid opportunity be aware that the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) restricts employer’s use of unpaid interns. This Act applies to businesses that have two or more employees directly engaged in interstate commerce as well as annual sales of $500,000 or more. Under the FLSA, most interns are actually considered employees subject to FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime requirements. If, of course, an intern is not an employee within the meaning of the FLSA, then the minimum wage and overtime requirements of federal law do not apply.
The Department of Labor uses a six-part test to determine whether an intern is considered an employee or not. Each of the following factors must be established for the intern to be exempt from the requirements of the FLSA:
1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training, which would be given in an educational environment.
2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern.
3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff.
4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.
5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and
6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
If you will be paying your intern (recommended), the wage should be determined before the intern is hired and are not typically negotiated. Consider paying consistent wages to all interns within each department. Students in technical fields are generally paid more than nontechnical fields. Pay for interns often varies by location, type of industry, size of organization, etc.
For long-term success, include tomorrows workforce in today’s staffing plan.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Accenture.