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An internship, also known as work placement or work experience, is a well-established practice between university students and businesses. It’s a bridge between theory and practice, offering students exposure to decades of first-hand senior corporate experience, a way for students to choose a career path and network with people in the industry.

Internships often lead to a permanent position in the company, but there are other less obvious benefits to the company. With well thought out employer expectation and standards of behaviour, an understanding of how to manage interns and effective supervision and evaluation processes, the benefits are significant.

If your company is thinking about taking on interns, consider the following steps first.

The recruitment process

Treat the process of recruiting interns as seriously as you do recruiting staff. Create position descriptions and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Advertise on the job boards and job sites of universities. You may also consider asking applicants to provide a brief to solve based on your company, which is a great way to sort the serious applicants from the rest.

If you establish a program with a university the process is easier. For example, the partnership between TPMG and Macquarie University Faculty of Business and Economics makes it easier for the company, with Macquarie University advertising the position on their job board and emailing top performing students, pre-screening applicants and generating a shortlist.

By organising the internship in this way, students are working to achieve credit points toward their degree and must undertake a specific set of study and assessment procedures, which makes the responsibilities and expectations of the company clearer.

A common question in recruiting an intern is payment. Many internships are unpaid, however Macquarie University places preference on working with companies who pay interns, because of the value that the company gains. Macquarie University takes responsibility for Workcover, superannuation and insurances.

Once the recruitment process is complete, provide appropriate confidentiality agreements, employment guidelines and orientation sessions as you would any other employee. Establish key learning outcomes for the internship program.

Organisational and operational challenges

Mentoring is a major drawcard for students looking to take part in an internship. The chance to learn from professionals with experience helps students plan their career path and motivates them to study and work. Manage proper time allocation for all staff involved in the program so they don’t feel too busy to sit with the intern.

The company must be ready for the intern. Have a program of activities mapped out so the student is not bored. Research legal responsibilities prior to the arrival of the intern and assign a ‘home base’ mentor, preferably someone in a senior position, to take charge of the intern.

The internship program

Integrate the intern as an active project member on current projects – assign real responsibilities and deadlines. Of course, make sure they are adequately briefed first.  To help the intern get the most out of their experience, provide homework that extends their workplace learning, and also make them a part of networking nights and introduce them to external contact networks.

Link KPIs to the position description and review these on a weekly basis with a one-on-one reflection session against their tasks, learnings and agreed learning outcomes. Provide a competency review that highlights areas of strength and room for improvement.

Internship programs provide great experiences to both the intern and the company and foster smoother pathways between universities, students and companies. Interns add energy and motivation to the office and you could even find your next permanent staff member. By establishing a structured approach with tasks, KPIs and reviews you will ensure that both the company and the intern get the most out of the experience.

– Greg Smith is an Executive in Residence at Macquarie University’s Faculty of Business and Economics and CEO of TPMG Financial, an integrated financial services solutions enterprise that runs internship programs with Macquarie University.

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