Establishing an internship at your small business might seem like a lot of work, but if you’re dedicated to making the experience a positive one it will be well worth the effort. Because most small business owners are strapped for cash, an internship can be an affordable way to boost productivity and creativity.
There are benefits for interns, too. Working in a small business setting gives interns real-world experience they might not get from a bigger company. Small businesses are usually more flexible in assigning duties and allow students greater opportunity to customize the internship experience to fit their future career goals.
If you’re thinking of launching an internship program, here’s what you should know.
1. Interns Are Not Free Labor
It’s possible to offer an unpaid internship program legally, but according to SBA.gov there are some stipulations. First, unpaid interns are not allowed to do work that contributes to your business’s operations; they can only do things that don’t have any real business need. SBA gives the following example:
“For example, a bakery may allow an apprentice/intern to decorate a tray of cookies that will not be sold to customers. Because the task was only a training exercise for the apprentice/intern and the bakery did not receive any benefit from that work, the bakery would not have to pay that student worker for that time.”
“What’s the point, then?” I hear you ask. Exactly. Plan on paying your interns.
2. Make the Experience Valuable for Everyone
Remember that the internship should be mutually beneficial, so don’t head into the agreement thinking only about what you stand to gain. As with most things in life, the more effort you are willing to put in, the greater the benefits you are likely to receive. Think about what growth opportunities and support potential candidates will neede, and make the position as appealing as possible. The key is to attract candidates who want to do more than fetch your morning coffee and file receipts for a few hours of class credit.
Intern candidates may not have a chance to gain financial independence working for you, but you can increase the number of talented candidates who apply by offering perks like flex-time, one-on-one mentoring, and immersive learning.
3. Plan Ahead
Before you start recruiting candidates to fill the position, you should already have a clear plan for what the internship will entail. That doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible once you’ve hired someone, but it does mean that you’ve defined a few clear goals and have thoughtfully considered who will supervise the recruit, where the intern will work, and how much to earmark in your budget for pay and supplies.
Lastly, there are important legal considerations for hiring interns. This shouldn’t scare you off, though. If you’ve hired employees in the past, you’re probably pretty familiar with the drill: understanding health and safety codes, checking out potential workers’ comp requirements, and complying with anti-discrimination laws.
Does your small business have an internship program?