Filling Your Staffing Gaps with Student Interns
Mike Detmer is COO of New Nautical Coatings Inc. in Tampa/St. Petersburg, FL. He can be reached at [email protected]. I started my role as chief operating officer at Sea Hawk Paints just as the company’s business began to pop. That’s because Sea Hawk products are premium coatings that are applied in the spring to protect motor yachts and sailboats during the summer boating season. With the factory in full production mode and the sales team busy servicing customers, a sudden surge in the amount of requests being placed with the marketing department for support materials began to inundate our marketing manager with extra work. This could potentially hold him back from meeting the critical deadline for the new product launch materials he is committed to.
Realizing the dilemma, the manager broached the subject of getting temporary help during last week’s staff meeting, only to get frowns from the president, who isn’t open to adding permanent staff. As a compromise, I suggested we bring in a student intern, something I learned about first-hand while attending Antioch College. Many colleges champion work-study programs where students work in a business temporarily to amass real-world experience in the fields they are interested in. The benefits seemed plenty, and with a quick web search we were able to find several colleges nearby with intern programs. Soon we expect to have our workload in check to meet the rise in demand.
If your business is experiencing a similar sudden uptick and you are not sure that you have the ability to get all the work done, consider hiring an intern of your own. When you do, here are a few pointers to consider:
The internship you offer should be a way of providing the training and experience related to an intern’s academic studies and career goals.Understand the Benefits of Hiring an Intern
Student interns bring added capacity and capability to your organization on a temporary basis, and at a reduced cost. This gives you the convenience and flexibility of hiring additional staff during peak seasons without breaking the bank. Interns also bring a new perspective with them. We learned this in the Niles Audio marketing department when we brought interns in to help with our catalog and website production. Coming from the University of Miami, the intern candidates were completely up to date on the latest design and production techniques.
Know What You Need Done
As with any project, setting clear expectations upfront helps foster success. The same is true with bringing an intern into your organization. Set a positive tone by making a list of tasks to do during the first two weeks and then beyond. Typically the first few weeks are a training period, and the weeks after are production time. Document the type and timing of the internship (i.e. summer, fall, or spring, and the number of weeks), work schedule (full time or part time), applicant qualifications, and compensation.
Determine How Much You Can Afford
While some colleges offer interns at no cost to your business, you may find that the candidate pool is reduced. Should you choose to use unpaid interns, check with your attorney to see if they can be classified as trainees under the Fair Labor Standards Act. In most cases though, particularly in the IT or networking fields, paying an hourly wage is common. However, since interns do not bring a wealth of experience, the wage is typically less than that of experienced personnel.
Remember That Interns Are Employees
Please note that I am not a lawyer and this article does not constitute bona fide legal advice. Therefore consult your own counsel on legal matters. Generally speaking though, with the exception of less stringent termination and unemployment compensation, the same laws for hiring full-time employees apply to hiring interns.
Be a Smart Recruiter
Remember that interns are coming aboard to learn. The internship you offer should be a way of providing the training and experience related to an intern’s academic studies and career goals. If you are looking for general business help, a typical university may be all you need. However, many residential systems integration companies need technical help. In this case, I’d suggest looking into a technical college in your area.
Think Beyond the Internship
Many companies are finding that the best future employees come through their intern hiring process. It only makes sense: interns typically have good grades and want to work hard. After completing an internship, some would cherish the opportunity to stay on as a permanent employee. I know that I did, and perhaps your next superstar will come from your intern program.
I hope that this article will inspire you to try an intern program in your business. It’s the perfect way to expand your capabilities without overcommitting your resources.