Have you found yourself wondering how to start an internship program for your business? An internship program holds many benefits for your company, everything from finding future employees to closing the skills gap and giving back to your community, but how exactly do you go about creating an internship program? Starting up something like that from scratch may seem a bit daunting, but there are tried and true methods for researching, organizing and setting up an internship program in your office. This guide will take you through planning, action, and implementation to create your own internship program.
Establish an Intern Coordinator/Committee
Before anything else, you’ll need to make sure there’s a person (or multiple people) in your company whose duty it is to handle the internship program. Having staff members take ownership and responsibility for key aspects of the program will ensure its smooth operation and make sure no duties slip between the proverbial cracks. Make sure that the coordinator or committee does their research and sets up deadlines and check-ins to stay on track.
Research and Evaluate
Before setting to work planning the program itself, it’s crucial that you get the lay of the land and do your research about your company’s needs, your potential intern’s needs, and more. First of all, what exactly is an internship? We all think we know, but there’s actually a lot of fine print involved in the specifics of internship programs. Chegg Internships calls an internship a “program offered by an employer that provides potential employees with work experience. Internships are typically targeted towards students, who work between one-and-four months at their chosen company to gain practical on-the-job or research experience.”
Next, get to know the age group from which you will probably be hiring. Who exactly are the Millennials and Generation Z and what do they bring to the table? Forbes does both an excellent deep dive into the benefits of hiring Millennials for internship positions and an article about Gen Z in the workplace.
Other questions to consider and research: what needs is your company looking to meet? What are interns looking for in a host organization? What makes an internship successful? What are some best internship practices of 2020? To begin that investigation, check out Way Up’s list of the Top 100 Internships Programs of 2020.
Know the Legal Issues
It’s imperative that you read up on and understand the legal implications of having an internship program in your company, especially in your particular state. Such legal issues include but are not limited to minimum wage requirements, safety and harassment guidelines, and which traditional employee benefits extend to your intern.
For an more in-depth look, check out the Department of Labor’s fact sheet regarding Internship Programs under the Fair Labor Standards act.
Gain Business Backing
It’s important to make sure that your whole company, including the CEO and executives, is on board with your internship program. You will find that you’ll probably need a lot of resources and support throughout the program and that will all be much easier if you have the buy-in of the higher-ups. What’s more, management that’s excited about the program will make your interns feel much more welcome when they arrive.
Design the Program
Now, the most important part of planning: designing the internship program itself. The structure that you create during the planning stages will be crucial to your program’s success. On a basic level, your internship program should be structured around learning objective goals that are supervised by a full-time employee with relevant experience that promotes career, academic and/or personal growth. Four main pillars support this structure: objectives, observation, reflection and evaluation. What will your interns be doing? Who will be observing/overseeing? What chance will your interns have to reflect on their work? And finally, how will they be evaluated once their program is finished? All the while, you must keep in mind the marriage of the intern’s learning goals with the company’s needs; when these two aspects work together in harmony, all parties involved will benefit.
Post the Position
Once all the necessary planning has been done, it’s time to take action and post the position. In the job posting, you should include a full description of the position, the industry, and the benefits of working for your company. Describe the prior skills necessary to complete the internship as well as skills that will be developed or honed throughout the course of the program. Illustrate the necessary education levels and qualifications, if any. Specify the length of the internship, the hours required per week, and whether the internship is paid or unpaid.
Check out some sample internship job descriptions here.
When it comes to where you should post your internship, Smartrecruiters.com names these websites as the six best job boards for hiring interns:
Interview and Hire
Once the job posting is up, the applications will start to come in. At this point, you will need to start evaluating applications and resumes, identifying the skills and traits you’re looking for and comparing the various candidates against each other. Create a system for reviewing applications to keep yourself organized. When you have your top candidates selected, it’s time to interview. Check out this article on the Muse for the best interview questions to ask internship candidates. When making final decisions, make sure direct supervisors are involved for the final say-so.
Onboarding and Orientation
Once your interns arrive for their program, it is hugely important that they are warmly welcomed and introduced to your company, as well as given a formal orientation. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because they’re interns, they don’t need to be onboarded. Treat the new interns as you would a new employee. As part of the onboarding, get interns help with setting up their workstations and equipment, set up some time with HR to fill out paperwork, and consider gifting your interns with welcome kits and company swag.
It’s then important to schedule group meetings and get-to-know-you events to get interns acclimated and make sure other employees meet the interns and are aware of their new role in the company. But the most important part of onboarding is arguably job-specific training. Your interns have to know what is expected of them, what their role is, and the specific processes in which they will be working. Take time to ensure that your orientation process is as thorough as possible!
In addition to having your interns report to a direct supervisor, it may be beneficial to assign each of your interns a mentor or “buddy.” This would be someone who could focus on their personal goals and growth and be their go-to contact for less official matters. Many companies find that assigning a mentor to interns helps the interns feel more secure and welcomed and in turn helps the internship program as a whole thrive.
Set Goals and Check in
As was mentioned above in the Planning stage, it is imperative that an internship program is structured around tangible goals for the interns. This benefits the interns, benefits your company, and prevents the interns from becoming swamped in busy work or twiddling their thumbs. These goals will obviously vary greatly based on the industry, company, and type of internship, but always make sure that the intern’s goals are beneficial to both them and the company at large.
Then, set up weekly or bi-weekly check-ins with the intern to ensure that they are on track for their goals. These meetings should be with their direct supervisor rather than mentor/buddy. Have the supervisor asses the intern’s work and progress, as well as address any concerns or questions the intern might have.
Have a Finish Line
If your interns aren’t working towards a final project or a big concluding effort, the end of their program might feel a bit anticlimactic. Consider the interns’ final effort when designing their program and assessing their progress along the way. If the type of work your interns are doing doesn’t lend itself to a “final project,” consider holding an End of Program Presentation (or something similar). With this, the interns get to present the work that they have accomplished over the course of their internship to their coworkers and other employees. Not only will this instill the interns with a gratifying sense of accomplishment, it will also clearly demonstrate their completed work to the rest of the company, which will in turn aid next year’s internship effort and also help employees keep those interns in mind for future positions within the company.
In conclusion, don’t be intimidated by the unknown nature of an internship program if you’re starting from scratch. There’s a lot to consider and get accomplished, but there’s also much to be gained. If you thoughtfully prepare and execute your internship program, you, your company, and your future interns will all benefit greatly.
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