Employers have woken up to the potential of internship programmes as tools to not only give new jobseekers their first taste of the working environment, but also to find and mould employees that could have long and happy futures with the company.
To ensure the success of an internship programme, employers might find that their former interns are their greatest assets.
“Internship programmes are excellent tools to address the gap between what students are taught at tertiary education facilities and the tasks they are actually required to undertake in the workplace,” says Lyndy van den Barselaar, MD of Manpower South Africa.
Companies also benefit from having these programmes in place, as they are able to claim back the funds spent on interns from their skills levy. However, the most important benefit from internship programmes comes into play when they produce individuals that can be absorbed into the business seamlessly.
“It is often said that job interviews should be just as much about the people who do get the job as it is about those who do not. Even when applicants are unsuccessful, they should be left with a positive impression of the company as an employer of choice,” says van den Barselaar. “The same holds true when designing an internship programme.
“It should create a positive perception of the company culture, as well as arm those in the programme with the necessary tools to be successful in their careers, whether inside or outside of the company.
“A secret weapon that most companies do not always utilise in their internship programmes is former interns,” says van den Barselaar. Companies should consider involving former interns now employed within the company to provide training to new arrivals, as they have a number of advantages over someone who provides general staff training.
Firstly, they know the requirements and demands of the position, which may be vital to new arrivals, many of whom are entering a working environment for the first time. They are new to corporate pressure and may not have the confidence to ask the questions that would enable them to do their jobs better.
Former interns can put them at ease and take them through their responsibilities, step by step. They can also point out common pitfalls of the job that many who enter a working environment for the first time are likely to encounter.
The guidance of former interns also shows new interns that the company takes the programme seriously and that there are opportunities within the business for those who perform well in the programme. A well-designed internship programme will attract the best candidates when compared to other companies where internships may be perceived to be of lesser importance.
Former interns could serve as excellent consultants during the design of the internship programme, by advising what they learnt, what they wish they were taught, as well as the tools and support they require when they first enter the company’s doors.
“These inputs can then be used as the basis for the programme, which can then be built out to include exposure to all aspects of the business. This serves a number of purposes.
“Firstly, the interns better understand their position in the company and are more comfortable interacting with other departments.
“Secondly, an expanded internship focus enables interns to be absorbed into a variety of positions if they show potential. Lastly, it exposes interns to a number of vocations at a time when they might well still be uncertain about their exact career paths,” van den Barselaar says.
However, internships should be approached with the utmost transparency. Those gaining experience must understand that they will be given ample support, but that future employment cannot be guaranteed. The experience itself is the opportunity, not only to impress management for future employment, but also to gain skills from those who have been through the same training, which will stand the interns in good stead in years to come.