5 Reasons it pays to hire an intern

Wondering about the business benefits of internships? Consider these 5 (often surprising) ways it pays to host an intern.
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Post by: Angie Knowles, ECO Canada

At our recent Toronto Environmental Professional event, I met an employer who mentioned a frustrating staffing situation: none of her recent hires were staying.

Over the course of just a few months, multiple employees had started in a position, demonstrated great promise, then left. This constant turnover was having an especially negative impact on her company, since she was counting on a small team to manage a significant workload.

This employer is not alone.

As numerous environmental companies can attest, it’s tough to find and keep staff with the right skills, especially if you’re a small business that cannot compete with the higher wages that larger firms offer. This dilemma of finding committed staff at a reasonable cost is definitely a major challenge, but it is not an insurmountable one.

Internship or co-op programs are one solution that many environmental employers overlook.

In our recent 2010 Profile of Canadian Environmental Employment, we asked environmental companies about the recruitment strategies that worked best. Fifty-seven percent of these employers found that hiring an intern was an effective option, yet only 23% were actually using this recruitment method. Clearly, hosting an intern has a number of benefits that many employers are simply not aware of.

Consider these 5 ways it pays to host an intern.

Reason 1: Get paid to hire
Hands down, this is the single most compelling and tangible reason to hire an intern. Many internship programs offer strong financial incentives for employers, allowing you to find new talent at a reduced cost.

Our Employment and Job Funding programs are one example of the major cost-savings employers can access by hosting an intern. With the IEYC program, eligible environmental companies receive wage subsidies to the tune of up to $12,000.

Reason 2:  “Test drive” a future employee

Internships offer a unique employment situation in which you don’t have to rely solely on references and an interview to see if a prospective employee will be a good fit with your company. You can actually see this temporary staff member in action.

How well does your intern fit into your company’s corporate culture? What is her or her approach to finishing tasks or taking the initiative? After you’ve hosted an intern, you’ll know the answers to these vital questions and you won’t need to guess what he or she will be like as a full-time employee.

Internships have become such an effective tool for identifying future staff that in a recent college survey by Wall Street Journal, 25% of employers indicated that amongst the new, recently-graduated employees they had hired, over half were past interns at their company.

Reason 3: Find top talent faster

While internships offer an excellent trial period to assess a candidate’s potential, these programs are also a good screening process, helping you identify top performers ahead of time in the new graduate talent pool.
If you’re looking for high-achievers who are motivated, organized and willing to learn, many interns will fit the bill. This is because internship programs are often very competitive – students who make it through the program need to be highly motivated, organized and willing to learn in the first place.

Reason 4: Continue finding top talent later on

Sixty-four percent of environmental employers in our 2010 Profile study found that their reputation as an employer of choice strongly affected their ability to recruit qualified candidates.

But here’s something many of these companies may not realize: regularly hosting interns can actually build your image as an employer of choice, both now and into the future.

When interns have a positive experience working at your company, they are likely to spread the good word about you to fellow students and faculty in their program. This free Word of Mouth Marketing is especially invaluable since there’s the potential to reach a wide audience as the information travels out to friends of friends. There’s also the fact that people generally place greater value on a tip about a great employer that they’ve heard from someone they know.

Put simply, internships are a recruitment tool that keeps on giving.

Reason 5: Recruit staff who are more likely to stay

Last, but not least, past interns have greater retention rates as full-time employees. During the internship term, the intern is also taking you on a test drive and developing a better sense of what it would be like to work for your company.

If you choose to offer your intern a permanent position and he or she accepts, it is an informed decision, with a new employee who already knows about and identifies with your workplace culture.
When the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) completed a survey last year of 280 employers, they found that staff who were former interns at a company were more likely to stay on with that employer.

  • Within the first year on the job, 75.7% of past interns were still working at the same company, compared to 66.5% of new hires who had not participated in any type of internship program with that firm.
  • Five years down the line, the gap was even more noticeable – 62.4% of past interns had stayed, compared to just 48.1% of other hires.
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