Cheap labour today, CEO tomorrow?

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Your next young gun could be the kid licking envelopes in the corner. The only trouble is, she’s licking envelopes in the corner.

If your internship program is run primarily as a source of cheap (read free) labour you may be saving yourself a few bucks in wages, but at the same time you might be overlooking a great opportunity: interns can turn into an incredible resource when properly cultivated.

According to US-based HR trainer Karla Palmer, how interns are treated during an internship can be the difference between quickly and easily taking on a quality graduate after they’ve finished their studies, and having to sink unnecessary money into grad recruitment. “Why not make the most out of your company’s intern­ship pro­gram and use it as an oppor­tu­nity to find your next star?” she asked.

Reach out early

With good reason, pro­fes­sional sports teams often begin scout­ing high school stu­dents. They want to secure the next Kieran Perkins or Cathy Freeman before the competition. It should be the same for HR, but it often isn’t. Even if they don’t intend to hire them right away, sports teams make themselves aware of future poten­tial.

If a qual­i­fied high school or university stu­dent has an inter­est in the type of busi­ness you run, why not have him or her come in once or twice a week and learn about what goes on in the com­pany? Reach­ing out early will give you the oppor­tu­nity to really develop your interns. By the time they grad­u­ate, you will know how to best uti­lise them as an employee.

Cul­ti­vate relationships

It’s widely accepted that a com­pany is only as suc­cess­ful as the employ­ees who work for it. Build­ing rela­tion­ships with your interns will help make them feel vested in the com­pany. Make an effort to speak with interns and lis­ten to what they have to say. Ask for their ideas on the work that’s being done. Assign them real tasks so you can see what they are capa­ble of. Give interns a chance to work on projects that excite them, such as social media imple­men­ta­tion. The more that you put into your interns, the bet­ter suited they will be for employment.

When the intern­ship ends, interns will remem­ber how they were treated and they will tell their friends. If an intern has a bad expe­ri­ence and tweets it, or posts it on Facebook, it’s certainly negative PR for your organisation. More­over, many uni­ver­si­ties ask their stu­dents to pro­vide feed­back after an intern­ship. Neg­a­tive intern­ship pro­grams can make a com­pany look unpro­fes­sional. The best grad­u­ates want to work for the best com­pa­nies, so a bad rep­u­ta­tion can seri­ously hurt a company’s recruit­ing efforts.

Build a solid intern­ship program

An intern­ship pro­gram that seeks to teach interns vital career-related skills will be far more suc­cess­ful and enrich­ing for every­one involved. Con­sider the intern­ship as a train­ing period. Treat and train the intern like you would a new hire. Give them the tools they need to become an asset to your company.

Try intro­duc­ing interns to dif­fer­ent facets of the busi­ness. This will allow them see what works best for them while max­i­mis­ing their hir­ing poten­tial. Not only does this help enrich the intern’s expe­ri­ence, but it also allows you to see how ver­sa­tile the intern’s skill set is. The intern should leave the expe­ri­ence with new abil­i­ties and a larger net­work. The employer should end up with a strong poten­tial can­di­date that is well-versed on the com­pany. Hav­ing some­one do your pesky admin tasks is nice, but cultivating your new star is even nicer.

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