Internships can be rewarding for the interns, but also for the organisations hosting them. Tim Edwards of PM Training in the UK is mentoring a student from Canada as part of our work-study exchange programme and shares his tips here.
What interns can offer businesses
Social enterprises benefit from the energy, enthusiasm and fresh insight that a talented young person can bring. Interns from other countries, for example, can offer the organisation an international perspective, and even provide links to communities and networks in their own country.
Students on an intern programme will be used to doing research – something that can, for example, be of benefit to social enterprises trying to assess their impact in a community. Interns may also bring knowledge and skills from their particular area of study. A student of digital marketing, for example, can be of use to a social enterprise looking to develop its online presence.
Many social enterprises are small but are seeking to grow. In a smaller business, an intern has the opportunity to get involved in a wide range of different activities. Our intern has worked on a project that looks at how we can better connect with young people and support them through additional web-based services, including virtual learning. This is a real example of how an intern's knowledge and experience can help an organisation.
How to support interns and help them flourish
It's very important to get a clear understanding of the intern's interests and motivation before they join you – an interview is the best place to find out about this. Obviously, you want someone who is interested in the work your organisation does, and who feels they can bring something to it.
Ensure you have a clear idea about the projects or tasks you want the intern to work on. This is important because a lack of clarity can bring anxiety and lead to demotivation.
The choice of tasks is important, too. Our intern works with colleagues on day-to-day operations of the business, but also gets to do independent research work. With time being a limiting factor during internships, interns need opportunities to make an impact and apply some of their personal experience to a project. By showing that you trust the intern with important tasks, you're more likely to end up with a self-motivated worker.
If appointing a mentor, make sure that person has a real interest in working with the intern. The mentor is also gaining valuable experience in coaching, setting goals and managing others, so make that clear when offering the role to colleagues.
The mentor should have regular catch-ups with the intern, so allow time for this. Interns are likely to produce the best work when you set goals, give lots of feedback, and monitor progress.
The benefits of the internship should be clear to the intern. Make sure they develop some practical skills to use in their future jobs, such as working as part of a team, dealing tactfully with customers, co-ordinating projects and taking initiative.
Perhaps most importantly, make the intern feel like part of the team, and try to make it fun!
PM Training is an award-winning social enterprise and training provider based in Staffordshire. It helps young people and adults improve their skills and career chances through programmes offering apprenticeships and work experience.
Find out how other undergraduate students from Canada and the UK are gaining valuable overseas experience, and connecting with peers.