Big or small, every company needs to consider internship programmes

Industrial Psychologist Phiona Martin says companies must help higher education institutions in producing work-ready graduates.

Employers are expecting tertiary institutes to provide work ready graduates who possess the professional skills necessary to seamlessly transition into the workplace. The topic of internships is key in addressing the employability problem, particularly for entry-level professionals who are often discriminated on the basis of lacking exposure to the world of work. An internship is a structured work experience often related to an individual’s career goal. It serves the purpose to build industry and soft skills, leading from education to employment. It is also a great professional networking platform for the intern concerned.

Internships and interns should no longer be confined to coffee runs and copious amounts of photocopying (although this still forms part of their duties – you haven’t been an intern until you have formed an intimate relationship with the printing machine right?).  Internships have moved towards providing the individual with meaningful and authentic learning experiences towards their professional and career development.

Many (mostly large organisations) have formal and structured internship programs, which have been refined and curated over years. Many other organisations often have internships that take place on an ad hoc basis and many more do not have interns at all. The commonly cited reasons for companies that do not facilitate internships are either costs or resource allocation. The benefits of having an intern, in this view, are therefore not seen to outweigh the time, resources and efforts required.  This article will illustrate how interns can benefit your organisation, not only on an individual company level but also in contribution towards the employability and upskilling of entry-level professionals.

Benefits of interns to the organisation.

In thinking beyond the associated costs of hosting interns, there are significant benefits to employers and five of them have been highlighted below;

  1. Interns can bring a fresh perspective to resolving old problems. They also come with the latest academic knowledge that the organisation can tap into.
  2. Internships serve as a “try before you buy” mechanism. The internship is a great platform to evaluate the intern’s success as a potential full-time employee and determine organisational fit prior to committing to a full-time offer. This can ultimately mean higher employee retention in new employees.
  3. An internship program can serve as a pipeline for full-time hires. It is an opportunity to select and develop future talent.
  4. If hired permanently, previous interns integrate faster into their new roles and have shorter learning curves than other new hires, as they already have exposure to the companies work environment.
  5. Internships are a great marketing platform to position the organisation as an employer of choice to the external world. The students return to campus and can serve as ambassadors, enabling the company to have exposure on campus throughout the academic year


How to start thinking about intern recruitment

In reaping the benefits of hosting interns, there are six things that your company can already start doing to secure the right kind of young talent.

  1. Start early. Where intern recruitment is concerned, it’s never too early. If you decide to take on interns, begin as early as possible in the year as the top talent gets snatched up quickly. Being proactive and approaching campuses before other organisations swoon in will pay big dividends for your organisation.
  2. Develop relationships with key tertiary institutes. Target tertiary institutes to recruit from yearly and start to develop a relationship with them, particularly the career office, key professors in relevant faculties, and senior school administrators.
  3. Invite tertiary institutes for site visits to your company. Getting career centre staff and faculty to visit employer work sites to see first-hand the types of experiences that your company provides can turn them into your brand ambassadors and develop stronger working relationships. This can lead to more student referrals and more campus visibility for the company.
  4. Target interns in their semi-final or final years. First and second-year students are great but maybe a bit difficult to attract them back in following years as they are likely to be still in an exploratory phase and not want to be bound to an organisation so soon. Students in their semi-final or final years are perfect because they are ripe to commit to full-time employment.
  5. Conduct focus groups with your target market. Conducting focus groups with select groups of students is a great way to see your organization from the student’s perspective. This can extract valuable information about what your competitors are doing that is appealing to students and entry level talent.
  6. Start accumulating projects: Encourage each department to start a “parking lot” with all the work and tasks that are not being attended to due to a lack of resources/time. This list could easily be built up and designed into meaningful tasks or projects for interns.

In the current war for talent, organisations need to be tapping into the labour force more tactfully, particularly with the healthy supply of entry-level interns and graduates that are available. Employers, large and small, should take on the responsibility of upskilling tertiary students with the skills to seamlessly transition into the world of work and provide opportunities to mitigate the discrimination faced by the youth for their lack of work experience.