How to Integrate Internships into your HR Strategy

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By Sara Padidar

The landscape around internships is quickly changing, and business owners and HR managers need to approach internship placements more carefully than ever. As we have seen with recent examples in the media, a company’s reputation can be put on the line as a result of unpaid internships or negative internship experiences.

One of the most important things to remember is that internships are not a quick fix to buffer staffing needs or a free labour scenario for your business. Instead, companies need to shift thinking to regard internships as an important function in integrating new talent into the workforce, as well as being a mutually beneficial exchange of time and energy.

With that in mind, legal boundaries should then be considered. While this area can be grey and is still changing, practicum programs through local post-secondary institutions are an accepted and effective way of integrating internships into your business. These practicum programs are often required and count as credit for students. For any other internship arrangements, paid or unpaid, it is important to seek legal advice to avoid any legal troubles.

Just as important as the legal issues however, is how your internship will be perceived from a PR perspective. In other words, are you ensuring the intern will walk away with glowing reviews of your company? Or will they share their negative thoughts over social media?

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Business owners and HR managers should consider the following when integrating internships into HR strategies:

1. Do I have adequate time to properly train this person?
Training goes beyond an hour orientation on the first day, but is an ongoing time commitment to provide guidance and feedback throughout the duration of the internship. Existing employees can be a great resource for training and mentoring interns.

2. Do I have the infrastructure in place?
Will you be able to provide the intern with a company computer, adequate desk space, and office supplies for example? Simple office professionalism in this regard can have an impact on how the company is perceived.

3. Is there a particular project the intern could gain ownership of?
Beyond having a clear job description of daily responsibilities and duties, consider handing over ownership of one particular project. This can create a sense of motivation and accountability, while providing value for the intern’s work portfolio. An intern that feels like all they do is administrative tasks like photocopying or coffee runs likely will not have positive things to say post-internship.

4. How will success be measured?
Just like any other employee, interns need to be able to continually assess how they are doing. Checking in on a regular basis and providing direct and constructive feedback is a key part of their learning.

5. Are there opportunities post-internship?
Set expectations early on in terms of job opportunities post-internship. If there is no permanent position available, offering to help with their job search can be a kind gesture.

Overall, internships are about giving and taking. Companies need to put in the time and resources to run internships, while the intern needs to come ready to dedicate their time and energy.

Sara Padidar is co-founder and owner of Vancouver-based PR agency Talk Shop Media. Sara is also an instructor at Simon Fraser University’s PR program.

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