Win-win internships

Successful internship programs aren’t just for big employers with sprawling HR departments. In fact, internships present advantages that are skewed specifically for small businesses.

That’s not to say they’re ideal for every small business. Generally, they’re not. Most notably, if your business is organized as a sole proprietorship, neither you nor the intern will likely derive enough payoff to justify a formal program. But for small companies, with about five or more employees, an internship program is a popular tool, which may help your company stay productive and competitive, cultivate tomorrow’s potential workforce, and gain PR attention by giving back to the community in a way that’s visible, meaningful and leverageable.

First steps

If you’re considering dipping your toe in the internship pond, check in first with your attorney. That’s because internships are subject to rules of the U. S. Department of Labor (DOL)—the same department that regulates more traditional forms of employment. You’ll want to be sure your program comports with DOL rules on the subject.

Broadly, you’ll need to differentiate clearly between interns and employees, accommodate the intern’s academic schedule (if a student), provide hands-on training and education, and ensure there’s no unwarranted expectation of compensation or future employment. These and other key points are covered in the DOL guidelines for internships. Duties should be spelled out in a formal job description that’s similar in structure, if not breadth, to standard ones.

Best practices

Ideally, an internship program should provide benefits to your company and the intern. Your intern should not be a glorified errand-person. The program should include guided training, skill development, opportunities to sit in on meetings (with participation, as appropriate). You should designate a single point of contact for the intern, who should conduct periodic check-ins. Before assigning specific tasks, it’s a good idea to make sure the intern knows how each task fits in with the company’s overall mission and operation.

You don’t need to set up a classroom environment or mindset. You’re also not required to pay your intern(s), though most employers offer a modest salary or stipend. But you can have a win-win experience with an intern.

Benefits for your company

An intern can:

  • offer a fresh perspective on policies, strategies, products and services, marketing, business advice and other normal operations
  • help out in a pinch by working with employees in a fire-drill situation
  • help you form or strengthen bonds with local educational institutions. This can provide long- term benefits as you scale your workforce

Benefits for the intern

An internship can help a participant learn or hone important skills that will be needed throughout life—including:

  • Relevant, practical skill development in a safe environment
  • Insights that complement the intern’s academic understanding of the industry or company
  • Overview understanding of basic roles/responsibilities that keep a company going
  • Experience that helps the intern build their track record for future employment
  • Work ethic, real-world self-presentation and behavior skills like showing up reliably, on time, consistently

And if conversations with your intern have sparked your own thinking about your small business growth, contact us at Expansion Capital Group or call us at (877) 204-9203. Our small business professionals can direct you to funding that could help your business grow.