In November, Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz stirred a national debate when he suggested unpaid internships for young people looking for experience. Internships may be getting a bad reputation, but when the program is set up properly both the intern and company can benefit. Not only does the company support the career aspirations of an intern but it can be an effective recruitment strategy for young talent. Here are 10 tips for developing a meaningful internship program.
1. Assess needs and resources: Determine the projects you could assign to interns, where they will sit in your offices and how you or your colleagues can support them. You need to set up your interns for success.
2. Get everyone on board: From the top down, secure the buy-in of everyone in the company before launching an internship. If not, the interns won't feel welcome and it will be a struggle to get others to support them along the way.
3. Determine length: An intern needs to stay with your company long enough that they gain useful work experience and you can evaluate their capabilities. If you want an intern to stay longer then you know it is time to hire them.
4. Provide fair compensation: Unless provincial law requires you to pay interns, you may debate paid versus unpaid. If you want to find quality candidates, you shouldn't expect your interns to work for free. Research appropriate compensation, do your due diligence and ensure you are offering an internship that respects the law and your interns.
5. Set up a support structure: Assign a coach to support the intern throughout and schedule performance reviews on a regular basis to ensure they receive feedback along the way.
6. Communicate your goals and expectations: From the outset, ensure both the employer and the intern know what to expect in terms of responsibilities, pay and duration. If an intern knows the expectations then they will be more motivated to work.
7. Give interns responsibilities, not titles: Identify tasks that interns can own. Not only does it provide insight into their capabilities, it will give them the opportunity to learn new skills that might not have been taught in school. Provide opportunities for professional development and growth to keep the interns engaged and ensure personal growth and experience that they include on their resume.
8. Treat them like full-time employees: Internships are temporary, but the more an intern feels like a full-time employee, they will be more engaged and increases the likelihood of retaining them longer. This gives interns a true feeling of what professional life may be like at your organization and it allows the employer to truly 'test drive' the candidate.
9. Leverage former interns to find new ones: Prospective candidates will likely have questions around what to expect in the internship so enlist the help of former interns who are now employees. They can offer a fresh perspective to candidates, answer questions and serve as an example of the potential that comes with the position.
10. Challenge them: Assign challenging projects and tasks to complete. Millennials can be incredibly collaborative and creative. By having them go outside of their comfort zone, they may just surprise themselves and you.
The biggest mistake is to view interns as free labour. Recruiting young talent takes time and internships can streamline your hiring process. By seeing the value in your interns and providing meaningful work so both sides benefit, it can attract great candidates to your company. If you invest the time upfront, your internship program will pay dividends.
Steve Titus is president and CEO of Aercoustics Engineering Limited, a visionary privately-held firm that specializes in fostering innovation in acoustics, vibration and noise control.