What you need to know about hiring interns

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Canadian and American businesses hiring interns have been struck with some bad news over the past couple of years. With claims and widespread reports of companies allegedly taking advantage of interns by performing tasks that violate labour and minimum wage laws, governments at all levels are looking at ways to combat this growing issue.

It has become rather common for unpaid interns to file lawsuits against employers. This has prompted many experts to opine that the era of hiring interns and providing students with an abundance of experience in their respective fields is dead. And now businesses, small and large alike, don’t want to risk facing lawsuit and negative press.

Whether or not the demise of the internship is an exaggeration can be debated. What we do know is that unpaid internship have been in the crosshairs of governments across the world.

But if businesses scale back their internships completely then it could be a real dent to students, particularly, because studies have highlighted that student interns are likelier to get top jobs in their areas of study than those who refrain from working unpaid at a private enterprise.

Thing is, we doubt internships as a whole will go the way of the pager. Rather, executives and HR departments need to understand the basics of hiring interns today.

For B2B small- and medium-sized businesses, there are various challenges they face with their internship programs. In Canada, for instance, all of the provinces and territories have rolled out numerous guidelines that businesses are mandated to abide by. In Ontario, according to the Ministry of Labour, businesses have to meet these conditions:

  • Training must be similar to that received in vocational school.
  • Training benefits the intern through new skills and knowledge.
  • Employers gain nothing from training interns.
  • Interns do not replace another employee’s job.
  • Employers do not promise a job at the end of training.
  • Interns are not paid for their time.

In the United States, the regulations presented by the Department of Labor are pretty much the same as the aforementioned, and they have been placed under intense scrutiny ever since the reports of lawsuits between interns and employers have been displayed on the front-page of newspapers across the country.

In other words, the tiniest infraction and violation of these laws can be rather costly in the end.

With that being said, both businesses and interns can benefit from a working relationship. Indeed, there is immense in hiring an intern, even if it’s just for three months. A business can take advantage of the fact that an intern can bring a fresh perspective to the company, offering a youthful outlook on their products and services. Interns are certainly technologically savvy and can employ a positive attitude and challenge the company to do better.

Learn from millennials

These are crucial attributes for SMBs, especially for those entities involved in the B2B industry, due to the fact that B2B companies have been accused of lagging behind on several fronts, such as social media, website security and mobile marketing. Since the younger generation is astute in these areas, a B2B SMB can learn a few tricks from the millennial interns.

It has been widely reported that the social media component of a B2B business model is sorely lacking. According to a 2013 survey of more than 100 B2B marketing executives by SiriusDecisions, the B2B industry is losing to the B2C industry in terms of social media.

Today’s interns know everything about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest and what works and what doesn’t. Millennials catering to millennials makes smart business sense.

B2B firms can also save money on the recruiting process, says Ashley Mosley, a Community Engagement Manager of InternMatch, an online platform connecting the best intern candidates and employers. She wrote internship programs can serve as “the perfect pipeline for drawing in talented future entry-level candidates.”

On the other side of the coin, an intern benefits by gaining valuable experience, learning new skills, understanding more about how the B2B industry works and potentially landing a job with a company straight out of post-secondary school.

If you’re unsure how to develop an internship program at your company, here are five strategies to incorporate immediately:

  • Research about the entire internship process: What is legal? How is an internship defined? Would this be for a college credit? Who do you contact to hire interns?
  • A consensus within the company to hire an intern: It’s important that there is a company-wide consensus to hire an intern because otherwise the intern may feel isolated and unwanted by the firm’s different levels of management, junior clerks and other employees.
  • Creating an internship program: At the beginning, the business has to design a program and create guidelines and targets, such as learning objectives, evaluation procedures and supervisor assignments. Furthermore, a compensation plan has to be outlined, a start/end date has to be agreed upon and the business has to delegate different responsibilities.
  • Looking for the perfect intern candidate: Prior to the hiring process, there should be an agreement on the type of candidate the company is looking for, like education, characteristics, previous experience, skills and so on.
  • Interviewing and evaluating the applicants: Hiring managers should conduct interviews like they normally would for other job applicants. Contacting references, performing background checks and doing follow-ups are part of the hiring aspect. Afterwards, it’s imperative to evaluate each candidate to determine if they’re the right fit, their skills match the internship position and if they won over HR in the interview.

There is no argument that B2B SMBs need some fresh blood within their organizations. The right intern can be that one person that can help reinvigorate the company and generate new ideas to help the business move forward. It’s important for B2B SMBs to consider the fact that millennial consumers will soon be a major consuming base in the B2B marketplace. Thing is, to intern or not to intern for your business?

 Flickr photo of an Intel intern and mentor via Creative Commons

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Andrew Moran

Andrew Moran is a full-time professional writer and journalist, who covers the areas of business, economics and personal finance. He has contributed to Benzinga, Capital Liberty News, Career Addict, Money Morning and PFHub.