An underutilized asset

May 21, 2023

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Put your interns to work and gain long-term positive benefits for yourself, your firm, and the young people who may one day be your employees.

What comes to mind when you think “intern?” Creating busy work? Having to redo work that an inexperienced kid did incorrectly? Coffee trips or menial tasks? Or perhaps it’s the Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro film The Intern. While a fun movie, it also holds a lot of truth, as a central message is that interns can provide a lot of value to a company if we let them. But how can we make the most of our interns, and not squander the potential value that they can add?

Interns are often inexperienced, but this can be a positive or a negative, depending on how you treat that reality. Inexperience can mean that a person is eager to gain experience and work hard, to absorb your company’s culture, norms, and processes without preconceived ideas of how things should be done or burnout from past jobs.

Another common complaint about interns is that you have to find them work. But instead of creating tasks to keep them busy, start integrating them into the work that is already there. Further, give them freedom to create their own projects, and you may be surprised at the long-lasting effects of their ideas. Forbes recommends that you, “Give them real, meaningful work that will help your organization run smoother, accomplish more, or be more successful.”

Often, interns are still in school, and may be learning cutting edge information in your field or learning from experts-turned-professors who work for companies like yours and are teaching their tricks of the trade. Learning can go both ways and developing relationships with your interns in which you both feel comfortable to share what you know can be mutually beneficial.

Further, HR Daily Advisor notes that “when your company is taking on fresh, new faces – and developing processes for training and supervising them – it’s also strengthening its internal processes,” which means you are strengthening your own company culture among existing employees.

Last, interns should be viewed as potential employees of the future. If someone is newly hired from another company, they will go through an adjustment period where they will have to learn about your company’s culture, norms, values, and processes. As stated above, an intern has already gone through that with you, and has no baggage that they bring with them from elsewhere. They already have been trained and understand how your company works, so after graduation they can jump right in and hit the ground running for you. Indeed supports this, reporting that “as a former intern, you assimilate into the new role faster than an external hire.” Pretty useful!

An example of this is an intern-turned senior engineer at Colliers Engineering & Design. Before she graduated, she started working for CED as an intern, with the understanding that if both parties felt it was a good fit she would become full-time upon graduation. As an intern, she supported our resident inspector on a sewer reconstruction project, and she got a lot of in-person, hands-on experience seeing what goes on in the field. The inspector on the project, who has been with CED for more than 25 years, said her appetite for learning and her ability to process the information she received made her an asset.

After graduation, she became an entry-level engineer, but was slowly introduced to more design work, specifically green storm water infrastructure and water and sewer design. Her manager reported that she never hesitated to jump right in to make sure the client’s needs were met expeditiously. It’s no surprise that she was promoted quickly to senior engineer and is now pursuing her PE. While she did not come to the company with the most experience, she had energy and a desire to learn and work hard that made her a long-term asset to the company. She wouldn’t be the skilled senior engineer she is today if her managers hadn’t treated her like a future leader in her field.

So, as we look at the summer ahead and the arrival of the too often dreaded summer interns, ask yourself what you can do to put into motion long-term positive impacts for yourself, your company, and the interns who may one day be your employees. 

Alexis Eades is a communications specialist for Colliers Engineering & Design. A graduate of Rutgers University, she has a passion for writing, learning, and traveling. You can read more from her here.

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