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Internship Planning: Cultivating your company's future

HR professionals know that internships are a vital part of an organization’s talent development program. It’s an opportunity to bring fresh eyes and skills into the company workforce and mold mentorships that can secure employer relationships for the long-term. Ideally, internships can feed a business pipeline with top talent that transforms into the company’s leaders. Internship programs are also more important than ever in today’s challenging marketplace.  

Recent corporate reorganizations and staffing reductions, combined with labor losses from the Great Resignation of 2021, have further elevated the need for effective internship programs. And, according to the Harvard Business Review, The Great Resignation didn’t appear out of nowhere. Exacerbated by the pandemic, they cite “the five Rs” that have contributed to the changes we’ve seen in today’s labor market: “Workers are retiring in greater numbers, but aren’t relocating in large numbers; they’re reconsidering their work-life balance and care roles; they’re making localized switches among industries, or reshuffling, rather than exiting the labor market entirely; and, because of pandemic-related fears, they’re demonstrating a reluctance to return to in-person jobs.” While some corporations paused internships during the pandemic, now is a perfect time for them to replenish their numbers by revisiting, rebuilding and reinvesting in an internship program that attracts and retains these new employees that bring so much potential to an organization. 

A good place for businesses to start is to consider a few questions: Is the company proactive or reactive in competing for today’s top college or university recruits and fulfilling specific business needs? Does it publicly showcase the value it places on its internship program? And does it foster a positive, diverse and inclusive company culture as well as lead with emotional intelligence for all employees?

Not all internships are created equal 

Depending on a company’s size, location, culture and core business, internship programs can vary dramatically. Based on a client survey recently conducted by Graebel:  

  • 71 percent were headquartered in the US; 13 percent within Asia and 12 percent within Europe 
  • 92 percent were technology companies  
  • 17 percent had programs with more than 1,000 interns 
  • 52 percent were 9 – 12 weeks in duration (either summer or during breaks in class scheduling) 
  • 44 percent had seasonal programs versus year-round 

The most common benefits included:  

  • Some level of payment of wages or salary through a lump sum, stipend or bonus 
  • Payment or reimbursement of travel expenses  
  • Payment, reimbursement or direct billing of housing expenses 
  • Roommate selection support if shared housing was required 
  • Immigration assistance for international interns 
  • Home office equipment, software or Wi-Fi allowance for virtual assignments 

Not surprisingly, along with every component of an internship, there is an added layer of complexity for planning, administering and measuring the effectiveness of your program. The logistical aspects can be successfully managed by engaging the appropriate service providers; however, the emotional aspect goes much deeper. Consider accepting an internship, living hundreds of miles away from home for the very first time without family or friends nearby. For these types of intern relocations, a dedicated relocation consultant is especially crucial to make sure your intern does not feel anxious or overwhelmed with the details of the move.  

Before and during all internship relocations, caring and clear communication will be key to ensure a smooth relocation and successful program. Clearly defining expected outcomes before the internship season begins will also be necessary to determine how the program’s success will be accurately measured at its completion. This could include a certain number of full-time hires that result from the program or meeting specific budget targets. Even if the average duration is only two to three months or is a virtual assignment, an internship is still a complicated, time-consuming process that can lead to undesirable outcomes if not handled with great care.

Ownership and accountability – who’s taking the lead? 

Owning the internship program and being accountable for its outcome is another important consideration. Sometimes it’s simply unclear within the organization: Where does the process start and who manages the planning details? Does it begin with recruiting/talent acquisition, HR or does the business unit take the initiative independently? Who owns the policy and are the budget guidelines known and agreed upon by all stakeholders? While not typically their primary role, HR and mobility professionals are often expected to collaborate with hiring managers to find, recruit and onboard the best-of-the-best college and university students to participate in internship programs.  

If that’s the case at your organization, below are some key points to consider when creating or improving upon your own internship program:  

  • Collaborate with your stakeholders to establish a formal policy or program guidelines for consistent use across global regions and business sectors or units 
  • In conjunction with your internal stakeholders, create and publish an official timeline for onboarding and offboarding your interns 
  • If your program includes internships for international students, start the process even earlier – at least a year in advance to accommodate for housing and immigration assistance for global programs  
  • For HR professionals — collaborate with your stakeholders and global mobility team to bundle the volume of services needed to maximize your company’s investment 
  • For mobility professionals — work with your relocation services provider: 
    • To create an internship program that leverages the best structure that works for your company and leverages a vetted network of reliable supplier partners 
    • For technology solutions and clear and compliant reporting on your company’s program spend and performance KPIs to ensure a maximum return on your program

Best practices – putting it all together 

Once all of your program components are identified and agreed upon by your stakeholders, the mechanics of administering the services also need to be clearly outlined and communicated. To accomplish the ultimate goal of attracting those talented students to your program means that their onboarding experience also needs to feel effortless and welcoming.  

  • Start early - If you want your interns to report to work and be ready go on day one, consider the sample milestones below in preparing your own proactive timeline: 

  • Plan – Know what the goal of the business is and craft your program accordingly. Attracting top talent in highly competitive areas of expertise may mandate a richer mix of benefits. For example: Consider whether a travel allowance (public transportation pass) or meal stipend may be in order and whether single room housing or roommate scenarios would be appropriate. Think about enjoyable activities and corporate outings you’ll want to create for the internship population – or include them in.  
  • Communicate Clearly - Have a clear policy or guidelines document outlining what is/what isn’t offered to eligible candidates. Educate your internal stakeholders that hire and/or mentor interns to avoid any misunderstanding of what’s covered and manage expectations.

Need help planning for your next round of corporate internships? Get started now!

A well-designed internship program can increase brand awareness among colleges and universities and attract bright, new talent. And in a market where it can be tough to find great talent, interns represent an opportunity for companies to grow their own. As your organization begins to plan its internship program, remember that, by providing an exceptional experience to your interns, you’re also building your organization’s future. To help you get started, we’ve provided a detailed checklist for you to plan, manage and assess your own internship program.  

Contact us for help creating exceptional experiences for your interns so they can perform their best and contribute to the long-term success of your organization.