Internships done correctly can benefit business

Limited job opportunities for entry-level workers in the aftermath of the great recession have created a generation of interns entering the work force.

New college graduates, particularly those without specific technical skills, find themselves bouncing from internship to internship in hopes of building a resume and proving their mettle in the workplace.

Growing small businesses may see interns as a low-cost way to add staff without permanent overhead. However, the internship pathway can be fraught with pitfalls, as highlighted by the recent lawsuit against media company Conde Nast.

Done correctly, internships can give interns practical skills and experience while building a pool of potential good hires for growing ventures. As a former partner in a start-up venture, we created a successful internship strategy that benefitted both our undergraduate interns and the company as a whole. If you are considering an internship for your firm, you should consider three key elements in your decision making.

Do I have the capacity to bring on an intern?

While the thought of having an extra set of hands to help build your business, hosting an intern carries its own set of obligations.

Today, many near college graduates lack formal work experience, even in entry-level service jobs as these are more often going to more experienced workers. Do you have the time to provide job instructions, mentoring and background on your enterprise as the intern gets his or her feet on the ground? Given that most internship’s last only a few months, small businesses should consider whether they have the bandwidth to commit before onboarding an intern.

Do I have the right job for an intern?

The days of interns making coffee and delivering lunch are long gone. While many internships have their share of grunt work, the position should provide a challenge for the intern.

At my start-up international staffing company, we hired interns majoring in language education, international business and global marketing for our positions. We provided related work duties, but also allowed interns to attend conferences, sit in on executive meetings and go on client site visits. These experiences help students build skills and confidence to succeed in their future careers.

Should I have a paid or unpaid internship opportunity?

In order to avoid paying interns minimum wages, the Department of Labor has six criteria for companies of any size wishing to offer unpaid internship opportunities:

The internship is similar to training that would be given in an educational environment.

The internship experience is primarily for the benefit of the intern.

The intern does not displace regular employees.

The employer provides training and does not derive immediate advantage from the intern (and in fact may be impeded by the internship).

The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the end of the internship (although hiring an intern is often an outcome, it cannot be promised upfront).

Both the employer and intern understand the internship is unpaid.

If the opportunity does not meet all of these criteria, then you should strongly consider a paid internship. Interns can still earn college credit for paid internships, and from a social value perspective even a minimum wage stipend can significantly help students trying to pay for college.

Internships can benefit small businesses in many ways from positive marketing to identifying talent for future hires. Strongly consider partnering with a local community college or university who can help guide you through the process and help find great fits for your venture. Our classrooms are filled with motivated and talented students ready to learn from your experience, and help your business succeed.

Ryan Davis is the dean of the Business and Workforce Education department at Everett Community College.

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