Internships – investment or charity?

How do you look at internships at your company? Is it an investment or charity (goodwill at least)?

It drives me crazy when I hear someone talking about the college kid next door needs a summer job can we hire him as an intern. What are they studying? Is it in line with what we do?  Do they have anything to offer us?  Do we have anything, besides a few bucks, to offer them? No one needs someone to make the coffee and do photocopying anymore. 

I've always looked at internships as part of the bigger recruiting and staffing strategy.  Interns can be a great way to load the hiring pipeline two or three years down the road. It is a great way to recruit the cream of the crop of the graduates coming into the job market and in a tight hiring market it is essential (the market will turn around someday!). What is better than being able to hire new college graduates, that know your business and that have been trained by you?  Even if your interns get hired away by the big competitors, at least the interns spread the word on campus what a great company you are.  This can be a huge help for a smaller company to compete with the big well known competitors.  Many firms have great college hiring programs that help them compete in this tight market (cheap, very talented, eager labor).  If they target schools known for producing the best in their industry it can be a huge differentiator. 

But internships are an expense, especially if done right.  It rarely works out to be cheap labor for two months.  A company needs to build a plan and program to manage the interns over the summer. Then during the actual intern period company resources need to spend time managing the interns and making sure they are productive.  Even if the interns are not a big expense pay wise (even if they are unpaid), they will want to learn something over the summer (or at least I hope they do). That planning and management time is a cost…

On the flip side, college students should look at internships as more than a way to make a few bucks over the summer.  It is an opportunity for them to get valuable real life work experience. Even better if the company they are interning with ends up hiring them after working two or three summers.  But if nothing else, it is a way for them to separate themselves from all the other graduates.  I know when I am interviewing a collage hire and internship that gave them real world experience is a huge plus. 

So does your company have an internship program?  Does it make sense for your business?  Should you have one?

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