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Internships: A win-win for students and your organisation
The great thing about internships is that they’re versatile – you can make them work for you. Done well, it's a win-win situation. The main point is to provide the recipient with experience, along with training and mentoring. For the company, internships provide an opportunity to assess and recruit potential employees, and promote your organisation.
What is an internship?
The great thing about internships is that they’re versatile – you can make them work for you. Some are aimed at tertiary students, others at graduates. They range from one week to 12 months, with those aimed at students often run over the summer period. Interns might be fully or partially paid or, occasionally, not paid at all.
The main point of an internship is to provide the recipient with experience in their chosen career, along with training and mentoring. For the company, internships provide an opportunity to assess and recruit potential employees, and promote your organisation. Done well, it’s a win-win situation.
Although there is sometimes negative publicity around internships, with stories of young people working many unpaid hours in hope of a job, on the whole internship schemes appear to be a positive experience for all involved.
Who offers internships?
Companies offering engineering internship programmes include Aurecon, Beca, Fisher & Paykel Appliances, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, Fletcher Building, Fonterra, Meridian, Mighty River Power, Opus, Orion Health, Powerco, Tonkin & Taylor, URS and Vector.
What are the benefits?
Internships help raise a company’s profile amongst potential employees. When interns return to university and talk about how much they enjoyed working at a company, other students, who may not have done an internship themselves, might consider working for a company they’ve heard good things about. As a recruitment tool, an internship programme provides a way for a company to assess people before hiring them. Internships are also useful if a company is conducting research or working on a short-term project.
Interns get a taste of the industry which can help them decide what they really want to do. The work experience is useful for CVs, can help achieve the number of practrical work hours required for a qualification, and also provides networking opportunities. For graduates, it’s an opportunity to put their knowledge into practice and get experience in the industry, with the possibility of future employment.
For third-year student Rohan Sood, an internship with Orion Health has provided an opportunity to put his skills into practice straight away. “It solidifies the learning you’ve done...learning the theory and then doing the practical also makes it easier for the next year of study. You’re meeting people in the work environment and learning from them. By moving teams within Orion I’ve gained more experience, and it’s a good opportunity for full-time employment later.”
An extended interview
Hiring an intern allows a business to directly asess if they would be an asset to the team and should be offered a job. Interns who join the full-time workforce already understand both the work and the company culture, so need less training than a new person. “An internship acts as an extended interview,” says Orion Health’s Jesse Kershaw. “We get good first-hand experience – that’s one of the main reasons we offer them.”
The process allows people to show their abilities and personalities better than a typical interview would, even at the intern application stage. Rohan says, “We do an assessment as well as an interview. We interact with the other interns; it’s more relaxed than at some companies.”
Fisher & Paykel Appliances offers summer internships to third-year students. Recipients of the four Maurice Paykel Scholarships are required to work as interns, and the company selects other interns from that Scholarship process. HR Business Partner Marcelle McCutcheon says that the application and selection process provide a good indication of a student’s calibre. “We consider a range of areas, from academic ability, personal achievements, hobbies and interests to community engagement – we’re looking for people with the right attributes, and in doing so we’re also thinking about future leaders, people who can positively lead and influence.”
The internships are part of Fisher & Paykel’s recruitment strategy, providing an opportunity to observe and get to know the students before potentially offering graduate positions. “We work very hard to make sure the summer internship is a good experience.”
Interns are useful when extra people are needed for a short-term project. They cost less to employ and can take on tasks which free up a more experienced employee for other assignments. Jesse says that interns at Orion Health often work on projects the company doesn’t want to invest too much time in. “It’s usually something that’s not a core business opportunity, so the interns can research and explore – it’s their opportunity to learn, and it lessens the risk for the company in looking at which projects might work.”
How do you evaluate the success of this sort of initiative? It obviously depends on what a company wants out of it. However, two indicators would be: whether you want to offer a full-time position to an intern, and whether they want to accept it and stay on with the company. Another might be whether the projects your interns are working on are leading to potential products or processes.
Thinking you might set up an internship scheme?
Design the internships you offer – length, type of work – around the needs of your company. Jesse recommends that anyone setting up an internship programme, however, should make sure that the projects they offer are interesting and engaging experiences for the interns. “Don’t just give them the boring stuff you don’t want to do; it should be interesting and challenging so they can push themselves.”
He also recommends anyone planning a product development project should investigate all the funding options. “You could look at Callaghan Innovation funding, which Orion Health has used. It stipulates that the project can’t be business as usual, it has to be something that isn’t planned for under normal operations.” He adds that a firm must also be prepared for a project to not result in a product, although it still acts as a learning experience for all involved.
Fisher & Paykel also receives Callaghan Innovation funding. Marcelle advises anybody wanting to apply to be aware of closing dates for submitting a proposal, as it’s relatively early in the year.
Anticipating future needs
Although you might not be in a position to start an internship programme straight away, it’s a good idea to consider future needs and how your company might want to use interns. Marcelle notes that New Zealand is vulnerable to losing graduates to overseas. “This is an opportunity to think about intern engagement and whether you will have a bonding system (although Fisher & Paykel doesn’t). Maybe your company thinks it can’t afford interns but, looking at long-term growth, it could be a good initiative to engage with second or third-year students, or even school leavers.”
So should you do it?
In additon to benefitting a company, internships also provide a way to give back to the profession. You’re helping to train and mentor young people who will be a full part of the industry at a later stage. And, again, it’s a good way to boost your company branding. For the last words, back to Jesse: “I came in on an internship and found it really good. If you’re thinking of starting up a programme, definitely give it a go.”
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