How to create a valuable internship

October 25, 2017 -  By
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With the right tools and planning, any size company can create and execute a successful student internship program.

First, define what an internship or temporary position should be at your company. Traditionally, summer or seasonal work is a temporary job with no expectation other than employment and pay. A student is on par with every other employee in that he or she is assigned to a crew, given work assignments and supervised. This isn’t a conventional internship, but it still might be a valuable experience for students.

A student internship is defined as a working arrangement of a prescribed duration, with a guarantee the student will rotate among several different aspects of a company’s functional areas for one or two weeks each, completing planned modules that cover the duties and responsibilities of a particular area. There also might be minimum requirements (of school, student or company) that need to be met. The number of rotations might vary based on the different services a company offers. A company with various services might rotate an intern from one to another, while a more focused organization might rotate an intern from crew to crew within the same service.

An employer needs to know what work situations it’s offering, and a student needs to know what work situation he’s seeking before beginning an internship or a seasonal work discussion. A company might start by offering a student summer work and transition to a more formal internship after the student completes one or more successful seasons of temporary employment.

Next, companies should create a plan for an internship or summer work program by focusing on pay, housing, transportation and scheduling.

The rate will probably be in the $8-$14 per hour range. A company should base compensation on regional averages and consider the pay offered by competing opportunities, if that information is available.

If a company is recruiting interns from outside its geographic area, transportation and housing also must be considered. These two categories will make a significant difference in the overall cost of an internship program. For a company that wants to start on a smaller scale, it can begin by identifying sources of interns—such as two-year or four-year college landscape/horticulture programs and agriculture business programs—nearby before looking outside the area.

The key elements of any internship are the training modules offered. It’s crucial to identify learning goals in each module and outline the tasks that need to be accomplished. The time range for a module is two days to two weeks with multiple areas of learning. A typical internship consists of a 10-week program of two-week modules.

Hiring process

Once a plan is complete, move on to the hiring process. This includes locating and selecting an intern, establishing a network with school faculty, defining qualifications and responsibilities and creating job offers.

Selecting the right person is important to the company, like any hiring. An intern who has a bad experience or is disappointed will relay that experience to classmates and hurt the company’s chance of attracting other interns and future employees. The National Association of Landscape Professionals’ National Collegiate Landscape Competition is held each spring and attended by hundreds of landscape students. The career fair offered during this event gives you an opportunity to meet students, promote your company and arrange interviews. You also may post an internship on LandscapeIndustryCareers.org.

Building any business is all about relationships. The network of relationships you build with the faculty of college landscape contracting and horticulture departments can be as important as any made with customers and suppliers.

Just as you would with a full-time position, determine minimum requirements for internship applicants. Additionally, it’s extremely important for a student to understand the type of work he’ll be required to do, with clearly defined working conditions.

Once you’ve narrowed down the list of applicants, send each candidate a written job offer that clearly displays the pay, responsibilities, housing stipend and length of employment. With interns or summer staff vetted and chosen, transition to the execution phase.

Getting started

As with full-time employees, student interns should complete new employee orientation before starting work. This often is scheduled for the first workday and is done alongside other interns. Orientation should include a review of company policies and procedures, a tour of the office and facilities, an introduction to key staff members and an introduction to their mentor. You might choose to include safety and equipment training on this first day as well.

An employer’s obligation is to provide a safe work environment that follows all established rules and regulations. Employees must receive basic training in the safe operation of all equipment.

Interns may not have the experience or maturity level to know how to conduct themselves in a business setting, so be prepared to provide specific instructions about expected dress code, code of conduct, drug testing requirements, time tracking, where to park and so on.

While an intern might be hired by a human resources manager, who will typically manage the overall internship program, assign a team member to be the primary point of contact for each intern. These mentors should have coaching and training skills and should expect to explain the relationship and purpose of tasks at a basic level.

A successful program will include an evaluation process and plans for continuing communication with students after their work experience is complete.

It’s important to get feedback from students on their experience during the process and afterward. Know the intern’s attitude about the company and if expectations are being met, plus any recommendations the intern might have to offer.

The company’s long-range strategy should be to stay in touch with the student after he returns to school to cement the relationship. You can do this by assigning an employee, possibly his internship mentor, to touch base periodically.


Suggested timeline for summer internship programs

First steps

  • Create internship plan
  • Get key company employees on board

Fall

  • Identify pool of qualified intern candidates
  • Conduct interviews in person or over the phone
  • Call references (at least two professional and one personal)

Winter

  • Determine final list of candidates
  • Send offer letters
  • Research housing options, if necessary

Late winter/early spring

  • ⦁ Follow up with candidates; determine final number of interns
  • ⦁ Establish start and end dates for each intern and develop schedules
  • ⦁ Identify mentors
  • ⦁ Secure housing and furnishings; determine roommates

Spring

  • Conduct mentor meeting to review intern and mentor guidelines

Late spring/early summer

  • Housing move in
  • Orientation
  • Introductory meeting with intern and mentor

Summer

  • Company evaluations distributed to managers
  • 30-day meeting with intern and mentor

Late summer

  • Finish and submit to faculty an evaluation for school, if necessary
  • Final meeting with intern and mentor
  • Housing move out

Myers is the director of workforce development for the National Association of Landscape Professionals. Reach her at jenn@landscapeprofessionals.org.

Photo: ©istock.com/NicoElNino

This article is tagged with , and posted in 1017, Business Planner 2018, Featured

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