This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
The employment and treatment of interns has been a much-debated issue in Canada in recent years, especially following an economic downturn that restricted the financial resources of many companies but didn’t limit the amount of work their “human resources” had to achieve.
More recently, Ontario’s Ministry of Labour ruled that the use of unpaid interns outside of an accredited academic program contravened the Employment Standards Act. While internship programs for students who are doing unpaid work for a school credit appear acceptable, the future of unpaid, non-student interns is now very much in question.
I’ll leave matters of labour policy to our elected representatives and to other government officials; however, I do believe that internship programs, done right, are valuable to both the interns and the companies they work for. I’ll also make the case for the undisputed value that paid interns bring to an organization.
When it comes to interns, most people automatically think “unpaid.” While we do have a few exceptions tied to specific postsecondary partnerships, almost all interns at Labatt Breweries of Canada are paid. In return, they are expected to contribute to our business operations during their internship. This allows us seek out and hire university-student interns we hope and expect will become permanent employees, often on an accelerated and steep trajectory career path.
In my experience, a successful internship program should be designed with two objectives in mind. First, it needs to provide the intern with a challenging and interesting professional experience with a focus on an actual value-added project. In a nutshell, it provides a realistic job preview.
Second, it should deliver real value through real work at the company and be a key source of the talent needed for the future – an in-depth, four-month-long “job interview” if you will. This lets the company determine whether the intern is a good cultural fit for the longer term.
For the interns, the program should give them a real-world, hands-on experience across all aspects of a successful business, while immersing the participants in the principles and culture that define the organization. To really understand the company’s true character and community commitments, interns need to be involved beyond the typical workplace activities. Many organizations encourage their interns to get involved in the company’s volunteer-led projects as well.
An internship program also needs to offer mentorship, career guidance and the opportunity to map out a development path during the intern’s tenure at the company. Our program begins with a thorough one-week orientation where they get a crash course on our business that covers everything from how beer is made to our management systems.
Each intern is assigned a management “supervisor” or mentor, who provides professional guidance, explains our company culture, discusses potential personal career paths, and identifies development resources and future career opportunities.
The supervisor also holds regular one-on-one meetings with them to discuss their progress and answer any questions they might have, to walk them through their mid-term and final performance appraisals, and to help prepare for the final project presentation that is required of all interns.
For the company, interns can offer unexpected and innovative ideas that result from their school-bred skills, such as problem solving, research and analysis, and fresh creative perspectives. Interns who aren’t familiar with “the way we do it here” can, and do, develop innovative ideas that tap into the company’s opportunities, as well as its challenges.
There’s no doubt that well-run internship programs create value for both interns and business. They get on-the-job training and a glimpse of corporate life; we get a pipeline of qualified future managers and insight into thoughts and expectations of some of Canada’s most promising young adults. Just remember, the programs must be fully developed and well thought through – and most important, intern doesn’t necessarily mean unpaid.
Charlie Angelakos (@c_angelakos) is vice-president of corporate affairs for Labatt Breweries of Canada.
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