By SU ANN CHENG mystarjob@leaderonomics.com
26 October 2013

How to maximise the internship experience for both the company and intern
WHEN it comes to internships, the discussion is usually skewed to how it benefits the interns. Indeed, interns gain invaluable knowledge and experience, giving them a competitive edge, which may very well catapult them ahead of their peers in the work place.
Nevertheless, what many employers fail to realise is that interns can very much be an added advantage to them as well.

Many tend to hire interns to simply perform tasks that no one else wants to do. If you want someone to merely staple papers, make coffee or carry boxes, hire the right worker for such duties.
Interns are worth more than this. They not only offer an extra pair of hands, but also bring fresh perspectives as newbies. As they learn the ropes in a field of their dreams, interns are out to impress. Naturally, this enthusiasm motivates them to multi-task, be creative and productive.
On the other hand, an intern who is bored, unchallenged or disconnected may have a more damaging effect on an organisation than the employer may think.
A negative perception among graduates will affect the organisation’s image, especially when it comes to hiring young, new recruits as well its ability to stay relevant with the future workforce.

With Asia’s robust economic growth, organisations who offer internship programmes may reap the benefits in the long run. The International Herald Tribune recently reported that foreign interns are flocking to Asia, particularly Beijing and Hong Kong, for internship programmes.
Interns have said that the companies they were attached with gave them big responsibilities, took them seriously and regarded them as assets.

In Malaysia, following the 2012 budget announcement, TalentCorp issued the structured internship programme tax incentive guidelines in hopes of generating more employable graduates by providing industry-relevant internships to tertiary students.
The key here is to provide an enriching experience for interns. The employers’ role goes much further than the mere perception that they are allowing interns a trial run before the training wheels come off.

Of course, the fundamental concept of internships means that employers should be prepared to do quite a bit of handholding. However, if done right and managed well, employers – and organisations – can gain a lot from interns.

Here are a few ways to ensure that you maximise the positive effect that interns can have for your organisation:

Magnify the internship experience
Interns deserve a well-rounded experience to bring out certain skills or talents. Assign them tasks that differ from time to time. Wherever possible, move interns to a different team or division to allow them a better understanding of the organisation and its culture, structure and goals.
Often, interns may lack the industry knowledge that an employee may possess, hence this approach will help bring them up to speed as they delve into various areas of the organisation and see for themselves the in’s and out’s of the business.

The more the merrier
Employers should consider bringing in more than just one intern. These young people may feel out of place when thrown into a corporate environment. They may not all have to stick together, but the notion of safety in numbers allows them to adjust to the office setting more smoothly.
In fact, this may even create healthy competition among themselves, which means every one of them is just as eager to get the job done as perfectly as possible.

Empower and entrust
Give interns tasks that they can own and complete from beginning to end. Start small, but allowing them to take ownership will challenge them to produce best results, be accountable and learn fast. Emphasise on the importance of their work and show them how they are positively affecting the organisation.

Let them think out of the box
Interns tend to be more progressive, comfortable with technology and new trends as well as more at ease with social media. Let them share their fresh outlook on things and at the same time, give them constant feedback.
A two-way conversation allows much-needed diversity to an organisation, which can accomplish projects in ways that employers may not otherwise have had the resources to pursue.

Map out a developmental plan
Despite the passion and fervour, employers should also be able to guide all that energy the right way. Given that internships are often short stints, interns need to be able to visualise the big picture.
Whether they are working for a salary or an academic credit, interns need to work towards an end goal and in the process, be able to not only apply whatever skills or talent they have, but also learn as much as they possibly can in order to carve out their career paths.

Make interns feel part of the team
Interns should be able to experience the totality of working in an organisation. Encourage employees to include interns in workplace events, projects, meetings, or even a simple lunch outing. This gives both employers as well as interns the opportunity to assess workplace dynamics and cultural fit.

A mentor to nurture
As much as it is important that they assimilate well within an organisation, young interns need mentors who are committed to their learning path.
While internships are relatively short, the experiences are often memorable and professional connections with mentors have a profound effect on their career development. In addition, assigning mentors is always a great way in honing leadership among employees too.

By cultivating an environment where interns are able to thrive in and continue to challenge themselves, employers, too, will stand to gain. An enriching internship experience also helps interns acquire confidence, apply theory to practice, learn about corporate culture and subsequently, become job-ready.

Internships are definitely an approach to consider in assessing talent and may prove to be a costeffective recruitment strategy for a permanent engagement.
It is a win-win situation if employers look beyond the idea of interns as cheap – or free – labour and seize the opportunity to gain insight into the future workforce.

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