human resources

Essential guide to designing an effective internship program

Zoe Papadakis

By Zoe Papadakis May 26, 2021 · 4 mins read

Essential guide to designing an effective internship program
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Internships are no longer about errand runs and menial tasks. With an effective internship program you are not just helping a student develop new skills, you are grooming talent that could potentially become one of your employees in the future. Having a quality intern can also increase productivity in the workplace as they can assist full-time staff by alleviating them from workload thus allowing them to focus on more important tasks. An effective internship program can also paint your company in a positive light as your intern will report back on their experience. Furthermore, it has also been proven time and time again that interns are more likely to stay with a company and demonstrate loyalty. This can help reduce staff turnover.

What makes a good internship program?

When designing an effective internship program you need to keep a few things in mind: A good program will offer students practical work experience, provide them with the opportunity to learn and contribute, build connections and networks and be trained via a hands on approach.

There are two types of internships: paid and unpaid. How do you decide which is suitable for your business? The key to an effective internship program is to ensure that your intern is not being taken advantage of.

Unpaid internships are common but these often apply to shorter programs. If you are offering a year-long internship then you will have to look at payment options.

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with legitimate internship programmes,” Kate Hilson, head of graphic design at Friends of Design Academy of the Digital Arts, told Businesstech) when discussing what makes a good internship program.

“Having the opportunity to learn the inner workings of a studio or agency under the mentorship of a seasoned professional can be really valuable when you’re just starting out, “ she added. “The problem is, some companies seem to be redefining what an internship is, and that new definition sounds an awful lot like an underpaid junior-level job.”

Kerry Hugill, head of Web at Friends of Design, further commented on the matter.

“We’ve seen job specs for year-long ‘internships’ that involve a huge amount of responsibility, with virtually zero supervision and full accountability,” she said.

“A lot of them would be a handful for a junior, let alone an intern, but instead of a junior’s salary they pay anything from R2k to R5k a month. That’s so far from fair compensation that it would be laughable if it wasn’t so shocking.”

Taking leave

The amount of leave an intern receives is dependent on how long they will be working for your company. Generally, interns are employed on fixed term contracts which means that sick leave, annual leave, maternity leave and family responsibility leave should all be in accordance to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.

If your company is using an online leave tracker to process leave, this could help you to ensure you are compliant to the BCEA.

Be prepared

Every effective internship begins with preparedness. It takes time, space and equipment to train up an intern and you need to first ensure you have the resources available. An intern is there to develop new skills and learn and you should develop an effective internship program that can provide them with that.

Appoint an intern program coordinator.

It is important to have someone coordinate a program that ensures your intern is reaching their full capability and getting the most of their experience.

Take some time to outline your goals and discuss what you are hoping to achieve. The time will be worth it as once your project coordinator understands what an effective internship program entails, they will be able to ensure interns have a collective learning experience.

Executing your program

You have established your internship program, the next step is to execute it. Familiarize you with your business, explain their role within the organization and introduce them to other members of staff.

It is important to share your goals, policies, rules and procedures with them and to also discuss their hopes and ambitions and what they hope to achieve from the program.

As you go along, provide and seek feedback. You can learn a lot by receiving details of their experience at your company. If it is your first time working with an intern, their feedback will greatly assist in fine tuning things so that you can establish an effective internship program that can be used for years to come.