Hiring students? Here are our tips for creating a great internship experience.
It’s spring, finally. Many post-secondary institutions finish for the academic year, and students start planning internships and/or seeking summer jobs. Proactive high school students are also looking around as well.
Students are looking for a chance to gain some great experience and prove their skills. They’re also thinking hard about where to invest their futures regarding particular companies to work for and where to live.
Smart companies see a strategic opportunity to connect with this future workforce and bring them in while they’re fresh and actively making career decisions.
Should you hire a student?
Hosting an intern or summer student is a big undertaking. Even if you have a standard process for internships, you should revisit it each time to ensure both the student and company will have a relevant, beneficial experience. It’s important to consider timing, company goals or roadmap, and availability of team members who will directly manage the interns.
Some larger organizations have a designated Internship Coordinator, but for the most part, facilitating work terms are the additional responsibility of a manager overseeing a variety of related projects. Consider carefully whether you have the resources in place to provide a meaningful experience. The last thing your company needs is strained employees or having to create unneeded work for someone.
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Compensation for internships depends on the school/program. Longer work terms through Canadian universities typically include a salary arrangement. Unpaid internships are popular in some larger cities or may be the norm.
Remember to consider the financial strain students feel as they try to support themselves while working hard for your organization. Managing life with limited finances can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. It’s often a determinant for top students as they choose between an internship with you or another organization that may compensate better.
Alongside Interns Tip: We feel it’s always a best practice to compensate interns in some way- whether it be a lump sum payment at the end, or providing them with additional training or events that benefit their careers. When it comes to summer jobs, apply to government programs that subsidize student salaries.
According to a recent study by the Conference Board of Canada,
“Hourly pay rates for co-op students, interns, and summer students range predictably by level of education—co-op students in high school receive an average hourly rate of $16.41; whereas those enrolled in a Master’s program make an average of $23.33 per hour.”
Establishing Mutually-Beneficial Objectives
Unfortunately, some employers seem to view interns or summer students as ‘cheap’ or ‘free labour’. Don’t just assign menial tasks (or stuff that no one else wants to do) that the poor student will dread every day and not learn anything from. A best practice would be to meet with relevant members of your team and decide on interesting, useful projects the student could take. Projects that benefit both your company and the student’s ability to utilize and improve their new skills.
At Alongside, we meet with potential interns to discuss these projects to see if they line up with the interests and expectations of the student. We want them to have a great learning experience with us as well as complete projects aligned with company goals.
Alongside Interns Tip: Remember that each person you bring onto your team, regardless of the length of time or role- will impact the reputation of your company/brand based on their experience. They’ll share their story with others, and you want that to be a positive one.
While students are not your full-time employees, it’s still important to invest in their onboarding process. Assess your current onboarding procedures and decide which parts are most relevant for a student and the department they’ll be integrating with.
A best practice would be to take the time to design a separate onboarding plan and handbook that can be easily modified each year. Important information (aside from their specific tasks) to include would be company mission, vision, and values, company info, relevant employment policies, parking, hours of work, dress code, and health & safety information.
Alongside Interns Tip: As with any hire, outline your company’s emergency procedures and introduce them to the on-site Health & Safety Rep or team in case they have any questions.
We recommend introducing the student to your entire team (if you’re a small group) on their first day or including a handy organizational chart that they can refer to throughout their work term.
Encourage their project leaders to get to know them and see this as an opportunity to provide mentorship. This can increase employee engagement and help encourage positive sentiment and commitment to providing a great internship program.
Alongside Interns Tip: Make sure interns understand and sign off on relevant employee policies. Depending on your organization, these could be safety, social media, or (most likely) confidentiality forms. Some organizations also ask interns to sign Non-Compete Clauses. Many school-led internships or government grants include necessary paperwork (for confidentiality, insurance, etc.), but make sure you’ve covered all your bases when it comes to your company’s own employment policies.
A successful internship often leads to a job. Some organizations always intend internships to be a launch pad to full-time employment. These short work terms provide a low-risk opportunity for employers to see how well students demonstrate skills and workplace fit. As well, they’re already (at least partially) trained and onboarded by the time their commitment finishes. This cuts down on ramp-up time if you’re planning to hire for a similar full-time position.
Alongside Interns Tip: Interns completing work-term internships are often anxious about joining the workforce and getting into their first job. Typically they’re looking for internships with the definite potential of a job afterward. If you know for sure that your organization is not in a place to hire them after they finish, make sure to be up-front about that. It’s not fair to give false hopes.
Interns and summer students bring up-to-date training and fresh ideas to your organization. Providing an exceptional internship experience is a great recruitment strategy to diversify your workplace as well as engage and learn from fresh top talent. Organizations that actively support and interact with the emerging talent pool are ahead of the game for integrating them into their workforce planning. It’s also a great way to support your community.
Does your organization take interns or summer students? Let us know what you’ve learned!