Are internships nothing more than a way for big business and big government to exploit young people looking for opportunities at little to no cost? Or are they a way for young people to get a foot in the door at a business that they'd otherwise never have a chance to work for? That all depends on who you ask – and where they've interned. When you start asking around, you'll quickly find that most of the successful internship programs around share a handful of characteristics in common. And it doesn't just boil down to higher pay.
Search for the Right Administrator
Too many businesses focus all of their attention on finding great interns. And if you're going to have a successful internship program, then you want to have quality interns. But there's an even more important element that's required. And it's needed before you have any interns at all. What is it? A passionate administrator who wants to see your interns succeed.
If the person who manages your interns is lazy, apathetic, or concerned only with what he can get out of your interns, your internship will inevitably fail. Your business needs to spend time cultivating a mentor-friendly culture where interns receive as much as they give. This will require an administrator who has been trained in how to teach young people how to function, and even thrives, in a professional environment.
If you develop good managers over your internship program, it will go a long way towards helping your interns become better employees, and ultimately, better people.
Provide Genuine Opportunities to Your Interns
We've probably all heard stories about interns who did little more than run errands for their supervisors. And though this might seem like important work to that manager who no longer has to pick up his coffee on the way to work, for interns who are yearning to learn how to do meaningful work, it means very little.
Instead of running your internship program like it's nothing more than a pool of low-level assistants, treat your interns like real employees and give them genuine opportunities. Ask for their contributions. Create projects that they can work on, and that will result in real-world implementation. Instead of treating interns like children, treat them like what they are – adults who have basic training but may lack more practical, on-the-ground experience.
Don't Forget to Give Feedback
It's important to remember that feedback does not consist solely of telling what a person did wrong after the fact. Just as with employees, your business should treat feedback as an ongoing dialogue with your interns. Interns should be in constant communication with the internship program's administrators – asked questions, receiving advice, and letting the administrator know what does and doesn't work. These are some of the best learning opportunities for both your company and the interns who are working alongside you. Don't pass up on the chance that you and your interns have to learn and grow.
Employment: The Best Test for Success
Feedback is great. And it's essential for you to hear what your interns think of your program if you're going to develop it and help it reach its potential. But with that said, one of the best ways that you can judge the success of your internship program is by noting the number of interns that you hire and eventually work for your company. What does it tell you about your company if an intern spends six months with you and wants nothing to do with you after that? Besides, what does it tell you about your company's ability to mentor and train those who will fill future positions if your interns don't know any more when they leave then when they first arrived?
Always remember, your goal in having an internship program is not merely to have access to cheap labour. You should be adding value to your interns as they add value to your company. If you can do that, you'll have an internship program worth talking about – and participating in.