You could argue that everyone has to ‘climb the ladder’, you have to start from the bottom in order for you to reach the top and peek of your career, and to some extent I’d agree – every experience is one that ought to be valued, but free labour should not be the case.
Now more than ever, unpaid internships are being highlighted and frowned upon. What was once a business’s dirty little secret is now on the headlines of national news, and rightly so. This generation is fed up with the expectation that they need to work for free to get their ‘foot in the door’.
After spending a lot of time with young people and businesses, I’ve had the opportunity to better understand the thoughts and perceptions of internships from both sides.
Learning on both sides
There’s often a perception that it’s the intern who gains from the experience of an internship, they need the experience and they will come away from it having learnt something from it. If that is the case, then unfortunately the company providing the internship is doing it all wrong.
An internship programme should be of benefit to you both. The employer gains the outsider’s perspective, the opportunity to talk to someone who hasn’t yet been moulded into industry, engage with someone that has new, bold ideas, and make you more productive by sharing some of your workload.
On top of that, you can help build someone up to becoming a trusted, valued and trained employee. The benefits for the intern are obvious, but that’s only when an internship programme is carried out properly. Get them involved in projects, let them in on team meetings, let them share their perspectives and challenge them to help their development.
There have been numerous times where businesses have said to me, “We have so much work on at the minute, we could do with an intern”, which is great but more often than not, they won’t pass that work over to an intern.
From day one, there needs to be a plan set out with all the tasks that need doing, to allow the intern to hit the ground running and for them to show you their true potential. It’s too often we hear from interns that they’re not given enough work, they’re bored, and worst of all they’re clock watching.
Interns apply for a reason, they saw something in the job description that was captivating – there is as much of an expectation on you to deliver on what was stated, as there is on the intern to deliver on what is being asked from them. Have tasks ready, whether it’s one big project for them to work on over the course of the internship, or 30 small ones.
Opening up opportunities
What you have here is a generation that is eager to tell the world about what they’ve been up to, and they actively use social media to do so.
Something that struck me (and is also a massive concern of mine) is how many young people came back to us and told us that they don’t feel confident or comfortable enough to step out of the online platforms and network with people in the industry. Some didn’t even know about networking events taking place in their own areas. Networking is one of the most important things to do when building up your career. A good internship involves helping the intern build their connections and mentoring them to help them develop and succeed.
Help their development
The amount of value an intern can add to your company is based on the amount of opportunities you provide them with, and the level of responsibility you hand over to them. To help empower interns to fulfil their role they need to be equipped and trained with the right tools and skills.
What we advise is before an intern starts, have a written contract in place, defining the hours, length of the internship, and the intern’s goals and obligations. Plan in advance any training the intern will need for their role. Sit down with them and guide them through the contract, explaining what will happen over the course of their internship. Ask for their feedback, and if there is any other learning opportunity they would like to have added throughout the time that they’ll be spending there.
And finally, the deep-end…
It’s easy to play it safe when inviting someone new into your team, particularly because you’ve never seen them in action and you’re not fully aware of where their strengths lie. So, I’d encourage you to challenge your interns wherever possible. You’ll find that lots of them are there for the learning experience. They want to see what it’s like to work ‘in industry’, so don’t be afraid to throw them into the deep end.
Every now and then, expose them to the ‘not-so-glamorous’ bits – they’ll thank you for it.