How to Create an Internship Program for Your Small Business

Interns can be an invaluable resource to any business, no matter how small they are. The key is to find qualified interns, which like any recruitment process can be a steep learning curve.

The Benefits of Internship Programs

There are many benefits to starting an internship program, including:

1. Cost Savings

Interns do not cost as much as a full-time employee, but they can, and should, take on the same projects that you would ask a full-time employee to do. This allows you to boost your headcount, keep costs low and increase productivity.

2. Eager to Learn

Internships are a great opportunity for both the employer and employee. Most interns are happy to take on any project you throw at them, all in the hope that the experience will propel their career. It means they are much more enthusiastic about projects that your current team may not be that excited about.

3. Giving Back

Like many businesses, you are probably keen to give back to your community, but it can be hard to know the best way to do this. Internships are a great solution. You are providing young local students to learn in a business environment, providing them with the experience, which will not only help with their future schoolwork, but with their future careers.

What You Need Before You Start

Setting up an internship program is similar to starting any new project. You need a project lead, scope and someone to make sure the work is done.

  • Program Owner: You might not have a HR manager, but you need someone to own the internship program. To make sure the interns are onboarded and off-boarded the right way and ensure consistency and fluidity in the process.
  • Meaningful Work: Gone are the days where interns are there to make coffee and do the mail run. To get the return on investment you’re looking for, they need to be given real projects with a clear scope and defined measurements. You also need to make sure that there is enough work for them to do. Remember students are normally more tech-savvy and enthusiastic than your average employee, so they may work faster than you planned. So have a couple of back up projects you can include, should they finish the first.
  • Mentors: Your program will only be successful if the intern has a mentor, someone they can turn to and ask questions. They do not need to be babysitters, but more a guide to the work environment, helping assign tasks and checking on their progress.

How to Start the Program

Hiring an intern is really no different to hiring a full-time employee. You need a job description, real work assignments and defined objectives. You need to know who will be their supervisor. And you need to know how much you’re willing to pay.

The one difference with employing an intern is knowing when you need those resources, way ahead of time. The nature of the intern role means that your future employee will be in full-time education, therefore your project timelines will need to fall into three categories:

  • Summer Interns: Summer internships generally run from the end of May to the end of August. The recruitment for summer interns starts in February, with the final hire made in April.
  • Fall Interns: Fall internships generally run from the beginning of September until the Christmas break. Recruitment starts in June with final hires made in August.
  • Spring Interns: Spring internships start at the end of January. Recruitment then starts in October with the hiring process finished by the Christmas break in December.

Building Relationships with Local Colleges and Universities

The majority of universities and colleges in BC run internship programs for their students, but not all schools are suitable for all businesses. It’s time to research.

Your first step is to see if they have relevant programs to your business, which could provide good candidates. Next, you need to find out about the career services they have available. Do they run career fairs? Do they have a job portal? How do they maintain their relationships with the employer? What support do they offer?

Once you have narrowed down the list, it’s time to make contact. Remember these contacts are going to be responsible for sending your viable candidates so it’s important to create an open and honest dialogue about what your needs are.

Like any business relationship, it is important to regularly keep in contact with your chosen schools, even if you’re not planning on hiring. You want your business to be top-of-mind and the first place that career services recommends to their students, so support their career fairs or info sessions, and offer help where you can.

We’re Here to Help

If you’re thinking about starting an internship program, or simply exploring it as an alternative recruitment option for your business, book an Ask a HR Professional advisory service at Small Business BC and find the answers you need from a qualified professional.