This article was published in the Union Leader of July 1st. http://www.unionleader.com/article/20130701/NEWS0201/130709969/0/SEARCH
Summer is upon us and with that the summer internship season. Internships are not just for big corporations. Even companies that may be off the beaten path or have only a few employees can attract and retain highly motivated interns. Let’s discuss how you can you set up an internship program for your organization that will bring value to your company.
Interns are students who are looking for work experience to help them prepare for the job market. In addition to college students, more and more high school students are looking for internship opportunities to learn about the field they want to enter upon graduation, or pursue in college.
The purpose of an internship is to allow students to connect theories they learned in the classroom with the practical experience of the real business world. If you want to have interns to clean your office, or sort your archives, we call that a summer job. That can be valuable as well, but you shouldn’t confuse the two.
Paid or unpaid?
The most common question is- Do I have to pay my interns? Well, it depends. At both federal and state levels, there are guidelines that dictate when you do or do not have to pay interns.
When the internship is a genuine learning opportunity that is part of a school curriculum, and the student doesn’t bring an economic value to the organization, you may be able to offer an unpaid internship. The New Hampshire Department of Labor requires that the program the student is attending receives approval from the department. As an employer, you need to be screened by the same department each year. This process is generally easy and not time consuming. The caution is about the program approval. If you as an employer offer an unpaid internship, but the student is not attending an approved program, you as an employer are in violation. Ask the education institution for the approval letter from the employment department, or call the department to find out if the program is approved.
If you choose to pay the student (at least minimum wage, currently $7.25 per hour in the state of NH), the student becomes an employee, and the same rules and regulations for employees apply to your intern.
Make the intern feel valued
When students enter the workforce they are full of energy and new ideas, they are ready to bring their knowledge to you. Finding a project that they can work on independently will give them the feel that they do make a difference. Your benefit is that you finally get the project done that may have been sitting on the back shelf for a few years.
You can decide if that project is their core duty, or allow them to also work side by side with you. Have your intern accompany you on a sales call, and/ or let her do a first draft of a project proposal. Introduce her to clients, “This is Janet. She’s doing an internship. She’s a student at State University, and we’re so happy to have her.” This way your clients don’t expect polished and perfect, and you also set your intern up for support from your clients.
At the end of the internship let her present the assigned project to the company. This will make your intern feel truly valued, and that they have made a contribution to the company.
Provide feedback – constantly
Interns are at your workplace to learn, and they are used to feedback- in the form of assessments and grades. Your useful feedback will help them grow and learn. Feedback can be presented in different formats, like scheduled one-on-one meetings, a quick “thank you” or an email with feedback, to name a few. Feedback not only helps them to grow, but also provides you with an opportunity to connect and learn about their view of the world.
Enjoy your intern!
Interns can be a great workforce management strategy that will not only help you get some work done, but also provide you with the opportunity to bring in fresh ideas, and to review how this person is going to do when they work for you. Internships are a great talent pipeline and a great way to get connected with Generation Y. Consider having interns in your workplace a good deed. It helps the up and coming labor force to gain the work experience to be successful in their career and in your community.
Mirjam IJtsma is the president of Cultural Chemistry, a Human Resources firm that supports small business owners and Human Resource managers in implementing highly engaged workforces by providing training, coaching and support in the human resources and process improvement areas. Cultural Chemistry is an abi Innovation hub alumnus. Mirjam can be reached at [email protected] or (603) 623 3633.