Many companies both large and small will be welcoming interns this summer. Some went through grueling interviews to earn a spot. Some completed a more casual application process. But either way, you now have to figure out how to make the most of their stay. For an easy way to ensure your success and theirs, adopt some techniques from structured on-the-job training.
Consider your goals
Before planning what to do with your intern, clarify what you want to accomplish for the business.
- Recruiting – many companies use internships as extended job interviews. In 2015, 51.7% of interns were hired full time, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers 2015 Internship and Co-op Survey.
- Give and take – some companies are looking for a little extra help. Interns are expected to contribute skills, such as web development, that companies lack.
- Good citizenship – many companies take interns with a view toward improving the overall industry skill level. Internships may be a collaboration between business and colleges to better prepare graduates for the work world.
Plan to help students transfer knowledge from school to work.
Regardless of your business goals for the program, most interns are still completing their education, and with your company, they’re laying the groundwork for a future career. According to Jeffrey J. Selingo, author of “There Is Life After College: What Parents and Students Should Know About Navigating School to Prepare for the Jobs of Tomorrow,” the most successful students figure out how to apply academic knowledge to the real world of work.
This is where structured on-the-job training techniques will help you. While interns are performing real work, you keep them focused on developing specific skills, give them feedback as they go, and ask them to be accountable for their own progress.
Match work tasks to desired skills.
Whether you’re eyeing interns for future employment or helping prepare them to contribute in the community, there’ll be basic set of skills you want them to work on. Go ahead and write those down and identify common tasks that interns can do or help with that will give them an opportunity to practice those skills. For example, if your business requires good writing ability, ask interns to draft proposals or press releases.
[Here’s a tool to help you manage task assignment and reviews.]
Make planning part of your onboarding.
When interns arrive, show them the list of capabilities you want them to work on and ask them what they would add to it. You’ll learn about their goals and possibly uncover useful talents that didn’t come out in the application process.
Also, don’t forget that some college students don’t have a good understanding of how to behave in a work environment. Share the employee handbook with them and go over basic expectations, such as when to arrive, how long to take for lunch, what to wear, etc.
Take this time to introduce them to the team and remind other employees that you may be calling on them to partner with an intern for demonstration, review, or feedback.
Get to work.
With your intern’s input, you now have a list of key skills and associated work tasks. Next, determine how the interns will interact with each task, depending on their abilities and the complexity or risk associated with the task. Here are a few ways they can take part:
- Work on their own with periodic reviews by an experienced team member.
- Assist one of your employees as they complete the task.
- Watch or sit in on a meeting or presentation.
- Meet with key team members to learn more about their jobs.
- Do some independent research to learn more about the company or industry.
If you want an intern to “shadow” someone for a day, make sure they have specific tasks they need to observe or assist with while they’re shadowing. Otherwise, you may miss good learning opportunities.
Regardless of what they do, they should have a team member they can call on for help, review or feedback. It can be a different person for each task or one mentor assigned for the whole engagement.
Write down these details to create an individualized development plan for each intern. Now it’s up to the intern to follow through. The plan gives them a pathway to follow and the resources to call on if they get stuck. You’ll easily see which people have the adaptability to figure out how to accomplish the goals you’ve set and the initiative to get going.
The plan also gives them permission to be proactive and the motivation to “check off” accomplishments as they go. When the internship is over, they have a succinct and specific summary of what they learned for their resumes and for your assessments if you’re looking at future employees.
If you’re managing an intern, after you set up the plan, track their progress and nudge them if they’re not moving along. You’re helping them learn that, unlike school, work requires initiative and they can’t wait to be told what to do.
With the focus on real work and accountability, you’ll be helping interns make that crucial transfer between academics and business. With a little bit of planning and oversight, your internships can become a valuable asset.
At Pract.us we’re dedicated to helping people turn academic knowledge into useful skills. Contact us if you have an internship program or training challenge you’d like to discuss.