Public sector internships can be a wonderful training ground for students. But it’s not just the student who benefits from an internship. Organizations can also benefit from the energy and fresh perspective of their interns. If your organization doesn’t have an internship program, here’s why you should start one and how it can benefit both you and the intern.
The role of an internship is to provide students with practical work experience in their chosen field. Interns should participate in meaningful work and have the opportunity to add value to the organization. In this way, both parties benefit from internships.
Most students apply for an internship to gain experience that can help launch their careers. An internship at a public sector organization can set them on the path to a rewarding career in the public sector. The benefits they can gain include:
1. Putting their textbook knowledge into practice. The practical experience they gain can give them an edge against other candidates when applying for jobs after they graduate.
2. Learning from a mentor. Being guided by an experienced government professional can be of enormous value to a young graduate starting out in their career.
3. Making mistakes in a safe environment. An internship is a learning experience, and most employers understand that mistakes are part of the journey. They are more likely to forgive slip-ups made by an intern than an employee.
4. Cutting their public sector teeth. For someone interested in a career in the public sector, an internship can show them how the sector functions. An intern will learn about federal and local laws, start to hone their diplomatic skills and see first-hand how their organization impacts the community it serves.
5. Defining their niche. An internship gives students the chance to find their feet. They start to discover aspects of the job they like which may influence the career direction they choose to take in the future.
Internships are a two-way street designed to benefit both students and organizations. The internship benefits for employers include:
1. Gaining new insights. Most interns are brimming with knowledge from their studies that they’re keen to apply in a real-world context. You could gain new insights and discover new approaches to solving long-standing problems.
2. Adding diversity to the workforce. Most interns are young and come from a variety of backgrounds. This brings a fresh perspective to the organization.
3. Developing the next generation. Today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce, and some will become future leaders. Your internship program can play a crucial role in shaping the next generation.
4. Converting interns to employees. Many employers offer their interns a full-time position at the end of the internship. Some use their internship program to feed into their recruitment pipeline. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), the job offer rate to interns was 70.4%, and the acceptance rate was 79.6% in 2019.
5. Gain a brand advocate. Public sector organizations are not always the most sought-after employers. If you’ve created an internship program that nurtures the student, gives them impactful work and rewards their contribution to the organization, they’ll likely share their positive experiences with their peers, friends and family.
Hiring interns should never be an afterthought. For an internship program to benefit both students and organizations, it should be well thought out and properly resourced. Here are five internship best practices to help you set up a mutually-beneficial internship program.
1. Give your internship program a home. Your internship program should never be left dangling in the wind. Ideally, it should be developed and managed by your HR department. Just like full-time employees, interns are also recruited and managed.
2. Assign a mentor. If you hire more than one intern, try to assign a dedicated manager to each one. One-on-one mentorship fosters relationships where the interns can gain greater value and feel comfortable sharing their challenges.
3. Give them meaningful work. It’s tempting to dump all the mundane tasks on the intern. But while a certain amount of menial tasks is to be expected for interns, make sure you have certain meaty projects they can sink their teeth into as well.
4. Select interns that fit your workplace culture. Your intern should grow both professionally and personally during their time in your organization. That’s why they need to fit your workplace culture. An intern who doesn’t match the culture may feel out of place and become inhibited.
5. Pay your interns. An internship isn’t an opportunity to score free labor. While some exceptions apply, the U.S. Department of Labor states that if the employer is the primary beneficiary of the intern-employer relationship, then the intern must be paid.
An internship is a two-way street, with benefits for both the intern and the employer. But for each party to get the most out of it, you need a well-structured internship program. CPS HR Consulting specializes in HR management for public sector organizations. We can help you develop a successful internship program. Contact us by filling out this online form or calling 800.822.4277.
CPS HR Consulting is a self-supporting public agency providing a full range of integrated HR solutions to government and nonprofit clients across the country. Our strategic approach to increasing the effectiveness of human resources results in improved organizational performance for our clients. We have a deep expertise and unmatched perspective in guiding our clients in the areas of organizational strategy, recruitment and selection, classification and compensation, and training and development.