If you've identified that an internship program is right for your company, you've receivedbuy-in from upper management, you've done your recruiting and identified your talent. Now, you have about eight weeks or less before they show up! The next hurdle is figuring out what they're going to do when they get there. In a perfect world, you have all this planned out already and many companies do, but for many, this becomes an afterthought and even if you have planned ahead, it's always a good idea to do some backup planning.
Obviously, the day-to-day activities your intern does will have a tremendous impact on their experience, but it will also impact the success of your program. Your intern(s) will go back to their campus in the fall and will either ensure that you have a line of students at the next career fair, or they will ensure that you stand at your booth all day watching students walk by like counting sheep. For the past 7 years, AgCareers.com has conducted an annual internship benchmark survey, which surveys interns from varying ag companies about their internship experiences both at the beginning, as well as once the term has ended. For each of those 7 years, when asked what students expect to gain from having an internship, the #1 answer has been a practical, meaningful work experience. For many of us, practical does include the occasional Starbucks run for the office, making copies, or taking out the trash, but those aren't the meaningful projects that build careers. Not to downplay the value of starting at the bottom and working your way up, a little grunt work can teach us all something. However, putting some time into identifying projects, objectives, and goals for your intern ahead of time will allow you to provide a more well-rounded experience
So what makes a great project for an intern? Unfortunately that's not a black and white answer that can be given in just one article. It's different for every company and for each different type of intern. A brainstorming session is a great first step. Schedule a meeting with the stakeholders in the business who are involved with the internship program. Include the HR Manager, not only for insight on what they are hearing from students on campuses regarding project objectives, but they can also help keep the group in line with any legal restrictions that may need to be considered depending on the project ideas. Invite the newest, youngest employee you have. While that person may have very little direct contact with your intern, they think like an intern. Their fresh perspective on your company and being an employee within your company can be very useful for identifying what the intern could work on, if they can work on it, and if they would enjoy the work while feeling challenged. Of course the direct manager of the intern needs to be included and lastly you may consider inviting a support staff member for that manager, often they can shed insight that others may overlook.
To start the brainstorming session, ask the question, what bigger projects are on our to-do list that we haven't been able to get to yet? What in our business plan could use a little more research before execution? Can one person assign this project, give some direction and step away while providing guidance occasionally? Are these projects that you can successfully measure progression and completion? Can they be achieved in 10 weeks or less? The goal is to come out of this brainstorming session with a mixture of short and long-term projects, and at the very least, three bigger projects in priority order and three to five smaller projects. Once your idea bank has been established, the direct manager of the intern can complete the planning process by making a final selection of projects and the resources needed to accomplish them while developing an onboarding/training plan to execute the projects.
As in so many circumstances, planning ahead will pay off. Having projects that will directly benefit your business will also have a positive impact on the success of your intern program and your ability to recruit and hire top young talent. An internship is designed to provide a sneak peak into what employment in your company is like for a new hire. Assignments and goals that contribute to the company's bottom line is part of any employee's job; interns should not be excluded from that task. Take advantage of their creativeness, fresh perspective, and willingness to learn. Throughout the work and certainly at the end, provide feedback to interns; utilize the same review process that full-time employees experience within your company. To help you prepare for the following year's intern program, ask your current group to help you brainstorm other projects that they may have discovered throughout the summer for which an intern could be assigned. Through the recruitment process, students will seek out companies who can lure them with detailed explanations of their summer projects. Being able to provide insight during the recruitment process will only strengthen your recruitment efforts and allow your program to gain success over the years.
Learn more about putting together a successful internship program by attending our upcoming workshop Internship Programs that Yield Results, April 15th& 16th in Ankeny, IA. View the schedule, topics, presenters, and additional information here.