In a competitive job market where qualified employees are hard to come by, it makes sense for businesses to create their own prospective hires. This can be achieved by developing an internship program that becomes a pipeline of qualified employees eager to sign on.
It's important to remember that interns aren't just cheap labor. Employers should cultivate and foster a scenario where the intern learns skills that will help him or her once they join the company full-time. Easier said than done: You need to develop an internship program that teaches workplace skills, which is easier in some professions than in others, but it's always possible.
Figure out what's not taught in schools
Classroom education doesn't always prepare students for the real world. As an employer who's creating an internship, you need to figure out what valuable skills and information your interns don't come in knowing.
The best way to do this is to pair an intern with an employee. Let your staff member talk with and work with the intern to figure out what the intern has or hasn't learned. You may be pleasantly surprised and find that your intern is ready to dive right in, or you may learn that some everyday basics need to be taught. You'll want to meet the intern where they are and foster an environment where they feel comfortable sharing their areas of expertise and the subjects that they need to improve on.
Beneficial for both intern and employer
An internship is a two-way street. The employer may get some cheap labor and grunt work out of the deal, but that's in exchange for helping the intern develop professionally and learn to make connections.
You should never just stick an intern with low-level tasks or treat them as a coffee runner. It's important to make sure there's a learning and teaching aspect to your program that gives interns exposure to various levels and departments within the company.
Build a bond
Your interns don't have to work for you after their internship. If you do things right, however, they should want to. You're auditioning for the intern as much as he or she is auditioning for you.
Show off what's unique and positive about your company. Let your interns know what their career paths might be and why they should pick your company over others.
Create a flow
Ideally, you want to have a steady stream of interns. The best way to create this is to build relationships with local colleges and technical schools. Reach out to the appropriate office or department, and make it clear you're looking to both advance the students' knowledge and eventually hire some of the interns full-time.
If you run a good internship program that the students benefit from, they will become your own recruiting force. Even the interns who choose not to come to work for you will almost certainly spread the word about the value of interning for you.
It's also important to talk with your interns at the beginning, middle, and end of their internships. Make sure you know what they expect and that you know their expectations. It's also important to deliver feedback along the way -- and it's equally important to listen to see if there's anything you might do better.