By Tom Faricy, SPHR, Trupp HR.
The weather is warming up, and there are signs of spring all around. While most of us are eagerly anticipating some long awaited fun-in-the-sun, many small businesses are gearing up for a complex juggling act, trying to distribute workloads among an already stretched workforce as an increasing number of employees request time off. But don’t be discouraged; it also means an increase in college students on break from school! Many of these students are looking for opportunities to gain work experience, and just might be the perfect solution to maintaining productivity.
For employers, a summer internship program can bring many benefits – extra staffing when capacity is reduced, creative and engaged students eager to learn, and an opportunity to build relationships for future job openings.
Successful Intern Programs
In addition to maintaining productivity, Internships offer a great opportunity to bring on specialized skills and training. To find interns in your area, contact local colleges and vocational schools to inquire about students looking for internships. Some schools may even be interested in an on-going relationship with your business if you are willing to provide a good internship program that supports their curriculum. You’ll find schools often share an outline of expectations for both the employer and the student intern.
If you hire a student for summer employment and no college credit is granted for the work experience, consider creating your own outline of expectations to make it an educational experience for your temporary employee. At the end of the summer, share a brief synopsis of the student’s performance. The assessment should include a summary of the skills they’ve engaged, feedback on areas of strength and weakness, and professional recommendations to assist in career development.
Whether you hire an intern through a college or a student for summer employment, make it a great experience for them. Give them interesting work to do that includes exposure to diverse facets of your business. Involve them in company and/or leadership meetings, and allow them to attend training classes with other employees. Engage with them one-on-one with mentoring and instruction. Not only will you have a better summer employee and a potential future hire – the intern will go back to their school and recommend your organization to other students, potentially simplifying your recruiting efforts in the future.
Avoid Common Internship Pitfalls
Paid vs. Unpaid Internships
There’s a common misconception that interns represent free labor. Implementing unpaid internships can be very risky and often violates the Fair Labor Standards Act. Interns are classified as an employee by the FLSA and are therefore subject to the same employment laws as other workers if they do work that:
- Replaces the work of other employees
- Directly benefits the employer
- Requires very little supervision
- Involves routine tasks pertinent to the business
- Covers for employees on vacation or leave
In order to meet the requirements for an unpaid internship, the student must be engaged in educational activities only and serving no productive use to your business. When in doubt, play it safe; pay your intern or consult an attorney to be sure you are complying with employment law.
Child Labor Laws
Remember that employees age 17 and under may be subject to Child Labor Laws. Be familiar with the laws in your state to ensure compliance.
Directory of State Labor Offices
Find Interns and Post Positions