Is Your Intern Program Ready to Develop the Workforce of Tomorrow?



Internship Workforce TomorrowBy Sarah Spanjar, SHRM-CP, AEM Human Resources Manager — 

There has been a clear shift in expectations that entry-level professionals have regarding introductory career opportunities and organizational culture. 

Interns are no longer willing to participate in lackluster internship programs, and in-office experience alone is not enough to attract the workforce of tomorrow. Gen Z is expected to make up 27% of the workforce by 2025; to recruit and retain this emerging talent pool your internship program must adapt to include career growth opportunities or training, highlight your company’s positive organizational culture, and provide them with meaningful work. 

The Why 

Having a formalized intern program not only benefits interns, but it also allows your company to have some sense of control over the impact that you’re making on intern development, as well as help shape their professional skills in a more structured environment. These programs are attractive to potential interns, as they show that your organization invests in employee evolution. 

In 2022, we determined that AEM’s internship program was in need of revitalization. We wanted the program to be more open to a more diverse crowd of candidates, increase accessibility, and include those who may have changed their career path or veterans who are re-entering the workforce. Ultimately, we decided to offer a program that would have the option to run for longer than typical internships; we currently allow interns to stay on for up to four years.  

We realized that by implementing a refreshed and more involved program we could create a win-win situation for both the association and our interns, equipping them with the tools they need to succeed, while simultaneously creating a stable talent pipeline and lasting positive brand perception.  

You can achieve the same results as well (with a bit of effort): 

What You’ll Need 

First and foremost, it’s important to assign someone to facilitate your company’s intern program. This should be someone to serve as an organizational cheerleader, someone with a passion for career growth with know-how and bandwidth to show interns the path forward at your company. This person could be on your HR team, could be hired specifically to manage your intern program, or could be added to an already-existing employee’s responsibilities.  

Identifying skills and knowledge gaps are critical if your internship program is to succeed. After meeting our first crowd of AEM interns who would experience our new program, we realized that many were lacking skills that are a necessity in the office. For example, many students used Google suite in school, while it is standard for companies to use Microsoft suite; interns needed training on how to use Outlook, and where to access functions in Word. We learned to be open and ask them what skills they want or need to work on to be successful, as interns don’t know what they don’t know. 

We also came to see that we would have to have an effective method of giving and receiving feedback in place, to make sure that the interns and managers' needs were mutually met. Through this constant feedback loop, both from workshops and surveys, we have been able to identify this need for reassurance and additional feedback – something that surprised us since many people are already acclimated to this in the office environment. 

Implementing A Meaningful Program 

AEM started by creating an intern handbook and a handbook on intern management. It has opened dialogues far more frequently between the program facilitator and the interns, as well as the interns and their managers. 

Each month, we facilitate workshops covering many topics to address the feedback received, and some of the topics we know will help interns the most. Interns are consistently brought together through these workshops, creating a cohesive team that serves as a peer resource group. 

Topics covered within our workshops include: 

  • Personal Values  
  • Networking 
  • Career Pathing 
  • Resume Building 
  • Interviewing 
  • Career Development Roadmap Action Planning 

The Results 

Whether interns stay within your organization or not, your job is to create standards that follow them throughout their career, and a positive perception of the company. They may spread the word that your organization is a great place to work and may attract other interns and entry-level employees as a result. 

At AEM, we’ve have seen interns grow into professional skills more rapidly, and they’ve built the confidence to be more fully ingratiated into our office. Recently, we have been able to hire a few of our interns on full-time, and others are willing to stick around longer due to the growth opportunities our program provides. When employed at AEM, interns don’t fetch coffee, they have meaningful work to do.  

In the future, we would love to see increased career mobility from internships to full-time roles, provide more room for interns to identify skills gaps, and create developmental opportunities. We look forward to continuing to provide members with articles surrounding entry-level talent development for their own operations. If you are working towards creating a long-lasting talent pipeline, then evaluating (and improving) your internship program is a must.

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