Create an Internship Program to Attract Talent

Female advisor leading male african-american intern in tasks

Most people outside of the home furnishing industry have a distorted view of the fantastic and vast career options that exist within the industry. Exposure to opportunities and career potential can improve the desirability and availability of talent. One way to increase the pool of viable candidates is to create internship program.  It is essential to create pipelines with reliable sources of talent to draw from over time and as a long-term strategy. Establishing alliances and relationships with colleges, trade schools, professional clubs, advocacy groups, and affinity groups is an excellent way of promoting your organization as an employer of choice.  

An internship is short-term employment mutually benefiting the employer and the intern. Typically, an intern is a college student who works for a company for a specified period and works on a project that has been carved out precisely for the intern. The assignment should provide a real-world experience where these interns can apply the knowledge they’ve acquired in a controlled environment.  

Most internships are during the summer months, but some are for a semester or one school year on a part-time basis. Summer internship allows for a more incredible pool of candidates to be considered since several college students return home to their families for the summer, especially if there are limited colleges in your area. Companies should consider advertising at colleges with desirable majors and higher diverse populations and offering corporate housing or a housing stipend. In this case, be sure that the brochures and recruitment material reflect your vision of being inclusive.  

Your organization should extend flexibility to the students during the recruitment phase concerning their school schedule and the more relaxed attire they typically wear on campus. Be sure to set dress code expectations before their hire date and consider offering a ‘clothing’ stipend or uniform shirts that you provide to wear in place of business attire if they cannot afford the type of attire required. 

For an internship to be impactful, it should be well crafted, with a clear plan, and have an Intern Sponsor. An internship sponsor is an excellent opportunity to assign a high-potential employee who is being considered for a future leadership position. The Sponsor is the program’s advocate and would work with each department that desires to have an intern to ensure there is a designated manager with the capacity to provide instruction for the intern. The Sponsor is the main point of contact for the managers and ensures the managers have created projects or meaningful assignments that will engage the interns. The Sponsor would also draft the program’s goals and itinerary. This document should include

  • The objectives of the internship program, the company’s history, an overview of the org chart, the mission, vision, and values, meeting cadence, networking opportunities with the other interns, and any different expectations and questions.
  • Weekly group intern meetings.  These meetings should feature tours of departments or different facilities. You can discuss lessons learned in these meetings to help them prepare for their final project. They can meet with a key executive weekly to discuss their career journey and the departments they oversee and have a weekly group lunch. This weekly meeting also serves tremendous value to the intern’s manager, who will also need built-in breaks. 
  • Lastly, provide a showcase in the final week where each intern presents their project to the organization’s leadership team.  

The managers’ and intern sponsors’ role is to provide them with career advice, coaching, and support, with the understanding that this may be the intern’s first professional career experience. Leaders from the company should also use this time to evaluate the intern’s performance to determine how they would best fit within the organization and encourage these interns to consider returning upon graduation. Periodic check-ins during their schooling are a great touch, by email or text. Be sure to survey the participants and use that information to make improvements so that the managers and the interns have a great experience.  

An internship program differs from a “summer hire” program in several ways. Often summer hire programs provide younger students who have reached an employable age and achieved at least two years of high school the opportunity to do some office tasks during the summer months to gain work-related skills. Frequently, this program is for employees’ children and is less competitive than an internship. The functions assigned to summer hires are usually more straightforward and require little to no training, such as sorting or delivering mail, filing, or washing the fleet cars. In contrast, an internship should have a meaningful engagement with a key team member and align with the area of study in which the intern is currently studying.  

Keep in mind that there is a cost for internship program, so budget accordingly. While most internships are paid, some states allow for unpaid internships. Unpaid internships are heavily scrutinized because of prior abuses when some companies required new employees to be classified as “unpaid internships” for an extended period before being considered for employment. This practice resulted in free labor for those companies. If the option to pursue an unpaid internship program is chosen, it must be done within a formal education program that provides school credit and primarily benefits the student. Employers should have a written agreement that there is no expectation of compensation, that the internship is for a limited period, and that there is no promise of employment once the internship is completed. Be sure to consult a local employment attorney before proceeding.  

Remember, the goal is to make a strong impression on these individuals so that they will consider your organization when they are ready to start their careers. Be sure the internship program sets the right tone regarding pay, treatment, and experience in the program. 

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