Focus on meaningful learning experiences to make the most of internships as a lasting talent development tool.
by Ave Rio
July 25, 2017
Internships have come a long way from the days of coffee fetching and dry cleaning pickups. Many companies now use their programs as a way to recruit and develop their next generation of talent.
“Good interns turn out to be some of the best full-time employees,” said Paul Ortega, national director of training and organizational development at Swiss Post Solutions Inc. “Internships are not just a way of attracting full-time candidates, they’re a way of finding and hiring new full-time employees who are very familiar with your corporate culture.”
At companies like SPS, an outsourced document management provider, internship programs are a year-round recruiting tool. Vault.com Inc., a ranking and review company, named the Swiss Post Solutions Leadership Academy Internship one of the top 10 internships for career development.
According to Ortega, 1,500 interns have taken part in the company’s program since it launched in 2006. Of those interns, 1,170 completed the program and were offered full-time positions. To date, 1,103 were hired.
“When you tell a prospective employee that you are dedicated to a talent development strategy that will ensure that he or she will have the opportunity to develop professionally, you attract the best talent,” Ortega said.
Not Just the Dirty Work
While some internships may stay true to the original stigma, companies like SPS are using interns to further their company goals and recruit talent. That sort of thinking about internships as a talent development tool rather than a source of unskilled labor is critical.
“So many internships have become meaningful ways to breed the best talent to drive organizations forward,” said Michael Wieder, head of brand marketing at WayUp Inc. “If you don’t approach your internship from that angle, there’s probably a bigger problem within the organization.”
WayUp, an online platform that connects employers with recent college graduates, is organizing the first National Intern Day on July 27 as part of its effort to raise the profile of internships. The No. 1 thing millennials are looking for is career growth, Wieder said, and if an internship isn’t set up to allow that the organization is going to fail.
Ortega said an important part of how they do that at SPS is by empowering employees to be actively involved in the processes of their own learning. A big part of that learning is creating meaningful work for the intern.
“When you use students simply to perform grunt work, you are robbing them of the opportunity to develop their knowledge and abilities,” he said. “A program without meaningful work is rendered meaningless to the intern.”
Treat Interns Like Full-time Employees
Internships can be most beneficial to the intern and the company when they maintain regular check-ins between the intern and supervisor, said Andee Harris, chief engagement officer at HighGround, a provider of performance management and engagement software.
“You want to make sure that interns at your company are getting a good experience so you can use them to fill your pipeline,” she said, adding that employers should set clear goals and provide feedback to interns just as they would a full-time employee.
Wieder said supervisors who are open, honest and transparent are key in a successful internship.
“Internships are about so much more than doing a job that no one else wants to do,” he said. “Real internships focus on the learning and growth potential.”
At SPS, Ortega said the internship is a good try-out period for both the intern and the company. Former interns tend to stay with the company longer because they learn about the company before accepting a full-time position.
“Every employer interested in creating an internship program needs to commit to making it part of the culture from the top down,” Ortega said. “It is a partnership and it is not one-sided.”
Ave Rio is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.