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Workforce training: Double value of internships

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Summer is nearly here and with it the chance to try out fresh, young talent without too much risk: Hiring an intern is a way for companies to test-drive a potential employee while giving students valuable real-world experience.

“When done right, an internship is a win/win for everyone,” says Becky Einolf, manager of the business internship program at Portland State University’s School of Business Administration.

Michelle Houck, director of client services for Portland-based Cmedia, a direct-response advertising agency, says interns bring a little something extra to the office. She says the type of person who applies for an internship is looking to break out of the student mold and get their feet wet in the working world. Interns can bring energy to an office and the latest knowledge and techniques from their university education.

“Interns bring fresh talent, book smarts and a determination to apply that to the company,” says Mike Bowyer, an engineering manager at Intel who oversees the Multiple Engineering Cooperative Program (MECOP), one of the oldest and largest internship programs in the state with about 100 Northwest engineering firms participating annually.

What an intern can do in the workplace varies depending upon the size of the company, the type of work available for an inexperienced person and the amount of time employers are willing to invest in training. Having a concrete plan for hiring and managing interns makes all the difference in creating a positive experience for employers and interns.

Before advertising a position, take time to map out what an intern’s role will be in your company:

  • Decide what type of work is appropriate and how the intern will be trained and supervised.

  • Determine if the intern will be paid or not. If the position will be unpaid, check with local universities for guidelines on unpaid   internships with for-profit employers.

  • Define the intern’s work schedule and routine. Bowyer says to remember that it will take interns about four to six weeks to acclimate to your company culture and policies.

Whether interns work hand in hand with other staff members or focus on smaller projects, a few key things can make the experience beneficial. Houck cites mentoring and flexibility as important components of any internship program. Einolf agrees, explaining that ideally interns should report to one person for consistency and effectiveness. Clark says that while interns are eager to work they need guidance and direction. Interns are known for asking a lot of questions and can, in their eagerness to learn, agree to take on a project for which they lack the appropriate experience and knowledge.

Most importantly, allow interns an opportunity to learn and grow within your field. An intern should not be a glorified coffee-runner. “Don’t limit them by what you perceive their skill set to be,” says Houck. “Be more organic. Allow interns to have pride and ownership in what they accomplish in the workplace.” Bowyer says interns benefit the company most when they have tangible, measurable projects to work on.

If your company wants to set up an internship program, join forces with your local university. That way, explains Einolf, employers can learn from previously established programs, work within preset guidelines and have a larger pool from which to choose interns. Working with a university also sends the message to potential interns that the program will be a high-quality learning experience.

— Colleen Moran

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