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6 Tips for Building Great Summer Internship Programs

summer internship programsTHERESA DEW
HNI Human Resources Manager

It’s that time of the year — intern season!  Summer is a busy time for many of our businesses, and fortunately, a supply of eager labor becomes available annually right about now.

Employing interns can be incredibly rewarding. You have the opportunity to make a major impact on a young person’s career and shape her future. An internship program is a great chance to showcase what makes your company and industry great, and potentially groom someone that may have a shot at joining your company a few years down the road.

But not all summer internship programs are created equal. Read on for some tips on how to structure your program for success.

1) Don’t make it just grunt work

We all had to do to grunt work at some point in our careers. But interns are not the solution for taking this off of your staff’s plate. 

Giving interns the work that no one else wants to do generally results in a pretty negative experience, hurting any shot at a future full time hire. If you’re looking to tap into interns year after year, this is even more important — negative reviews of summer internship programs will likely spread to professors, advisors, and peers.

An intern can offer a fresh perspective and new solutions. Take advantage of this, and give them meaningful work that allows them to shine!  

Does this mean you can NEVER ask interns to make copies? Of course not. But make sure the majority of their work consists of meaty projects that match their skills and interests.

2) Focus on project-based assignments

Training interns can quickly become a black hole. They have a lot to learn, and sometimes you don’t even realize how much until you start trying to explain to them the ins and outs of your industry and what you do every day. 

We’ve had the best success with giving interns project-based work. You don’t have to train them on everything under the sun — instead, they can focus on one main assignment at a time and learn it piece by piece. At the end of the summer, they will be proud to point to a project that they helped drive from start to completion.

3) Let them be sponges

Things that may be ho-hum to you — like the gazillionth meeting on your calendar — can be really exciting opportunities for young talent. Ask them what they’re interested in and keep an eye out for activities that match up. Let them shadow you on client calls, take notes in a meeting, or get exposure in other ways to give them a “real world” perspective on your business

4) Consider offering flex time

Flex time is a HUGE selling point for the millennial generation. They’re used to flexibility and constant connectedness in other areas of their lives, and value it greatly in potential employers.

What’s more, students are used to spending the day on campus with a varied schedule throughout the week. As you can imagine, 8 to 5 can be a bit of a transition for some. Flex time can help bridge this gap and make them the most productive they can be.

5) Give and get regular feedback

Millennials need more feedback than the generations that came before them — the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is even more pronounced in students who are having their first experience in a professional setting, so take the time to regularly let them know how they’re performing.

Solicit feedback from them as well over the course of the program. Touch base with them periodically on how things are going and ask what kinds of challenges they’d like to take on. Toward the end of their internship, conduct an exit interview to collect feedback on what could be done better next time around.

6) Make sure you comply with relevant laws

Intern programs can get into hot water at times with the Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). If interns in your program are unpaid, tread cautiously and check with your HR or legal advisors. Unpaid summer internship programs have been the subject of recent lawsuits and may not be permissible in many cases.

Another HR compliance issue to watch for is work that interns may be doing from home. If they’re hourly employees, they need to be compensated for the time they work — and if they’re checking emails on the fly or trying to get a jump start in the evening, that could come back to bite you as a wage and hour violation. Make it clear to interns that you want them logging all hours worked, whether you want to limit them to just 8 to 5 or have them log it from home.

Share your tips for successful summer internship programs!

Have you recruited interns for your organization? What have you done that has been successful? Please share ideas and suggestions in the comments!

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Topics: Construction Transportation Manufacturing HR / Employee Benefits