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Updated: April 17, 2023 Know How

Manage your interns effectively

Most businesses today would love to have a vibrant, well-oiled internship program delivering value and building talent. In reality, most business leaders don’t have the time or capacity to manage an internship program, whether it’s paid or unpaid.

A smiling headshot of Amy Mosher Berry
Amy Mosher Berry started Marlborough-based Visions Internships in 2020 to bridge the growing gap between young professionals seeking meaningful real-world experience and social impact organizations in need of project support.

It’s great to know 45% of WBJ’s Feb. 17 poll respondents reported they pay their interns and another 23% ensure academic credit in lieu of payment, but what’s the measurable return on investment for both the organization and the intern?

I would love to ask readers these follow-up questions:

• How much is it costing your organization to manage your internship program?

• Do you have dedicated staff managing your internship program?

• How are you measuring the value of your internship program?

Did you know if you’re a for-profit organization and you do not pay your interns, you need to meet seven test criteria to ensure the intern is the primary beneficiary of the arrangement? In my experience, whether an organization is for-profit or nonprofit (despite being held to different federal standards on unpaid internships), the responsibility of managing and measuring an internship program is often unsustainable.

On the intern side, connecting young people to an internship opportunity is just the tip of the iceberg. The real question is: Are the interns getting the skills and support to succeed? If you know a college student (undergraduate or graduate level) please encourage them to get creative and work with their advisors and faculty to craft one to three credit-bearing internships, so they don’t end up saddled by debt without a plan after graduation.

Regardless of their financial aid scenario, students are the paying customers of their college education and, therefore, have the right to a reasonable return on their time and money.

It should be noted companies often assume colleges manage interns, especially when academic credit is earned, and yet colleges often assume companies manage them. This mutual misunderstanding can result in dissatisfaction for both the intern and host organization. If you are thinking about starting or growing an internship program, here are things to consider:

Expand your talent pool

Decrease the number of hours required per week, especially if unpaid, to eliminate the concern only rich kids can afford to do unpaid internships, and increase the type and quality of work.

Raise the typical age bracket and rethink college requirements for interns, recognizing the impact COVID has had on people’s career trajectories.

Provide dedicated mentors

Virtual and in-person internship models work well when the interns are clear what is expected of them and are trained and supported appropriately.

Mind the gap

Focus on the purpose gap as a strategy to attract, engage, and retain young talent, as over 80% of today’s college graduates are seeking purposeful work.

After running five 12-week early-career accelerator programs since December 2020, we’ve learned how important it is to minimize the burden of training and supporting interns so employers can focus on other work while still getting customized projects done.

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