Student Aid: How to Hire an Intern or Co-Op Student
Taking on an intern or co-op student is a great way to get extra help and give valuable work experience
BY ALLAN BRITNELL
Bringing an intern or co-op student into your office or workplace may seem like a no-brainer: who wouldn’t want a short-term source of low-cost – or free – labour? But an internship or co-op placement should always be a two-way street, with both the employer and the student benefiting from the experience. Ensuring that happens requires a little work on your part. Here’s a primer on how to hire a happy intern and help boost your business at the same time.
Why hire an intern or co-op student?
While the ability to bring in an extra set of hands is certainly enticing, an intern or co-op student can provide much more to your company. “Interns bring keenness and fresh thinking to the companies they’re placed at,” says Melissa Patrizi, career and placement co- ordinator with Ontario’s University of Guelph-Humber. Plus, she adds, “This generation is tech-savvy as an innate skill, and they’re learning [about the latest] technological skills and tools that you may not have” in your existing workforce.
By having a regular stream of interns through your business, you’re also creating a pool of pretested and vetted applicants for future hiring if a position does come up. As Patrizi points out, “Corporate culture and fit can’t be taught.” A survey by The Wall Street Journal found that prior interns made up more than 50% of the recent hires of a quarter of all respondents.
And those hires tend to be good ones. Another survey, this one by the U.S. National Association of Colleges and Employers, found that nearly 90% of interns who were hired full time remained on the job a year later, and nearly three- quarters (72.9%) were still with the company after five years.
Before you think about replacing your salaried staff with interns and co-op students, be aware of the legality of unpaid labour. Many provinces have strict guidelines around internships. The Ontario Ministry of Labour, for example, stipulates that even if you call someone an “intern,” with very few exceptions, they are still entitled to the province’s current minimum wage of $10.25 an hour. The Canadian Intern Association (CIA) lists the various provincial regulations on its website. For employers who might try to skirt around the law, the CIA has a “Wall of Shame,” listing companies that have tried to illegally hire interns, and has launched a “Claim Back Your Pay” campaign to encourage illegally underpaid interns to seek redress.
The one exemption to paying interns is to hire one through a post-secondary institution that has internships as a component of coursework. Another advantage of bringing in interns from school programs is that they’ll be covered by the institution’s insurance policy in the event of an on-the-job accident. Guelph-Humber’s policy, for example, mirrors whatever a company already has in place for existing employees.
So where do you find an intern or co-op student, if they’re not already knocking on your door? There are a variety of DIY options, including contacting colleges and universities directly, posting ads on sites such as Workopolis, or perusing job boards, such as the one run by ECO Canada.
Or, you can outsource much of the work to an organization such as Career Edge Organization. The non- profit has relationships with dozens of schools across the country and has, to date, connected nearly 12,000 paid interns with employers.
Career Edge will not only help find you a qualified intern, they’ll handle the payroll and provide tax-preparation documents, as well. Fees range from $2,950 a month for an inexperienced intern, to $3,250 for an experienced intern, all based on a 40-hour work week.
One way to help fund a paid placement could be through a grant. ECO Canada, a non-profit labour-market resource organization for Canada’s environmental- focused industries, has an annual grant program that subsidizes the wages SMEs pay to interns by up to $12,000 a year.
The types of companies and roles assigned are pretty broad-ranging. “We’ve had companies that promote green products and need help with marketing or sales, to environmental design companies looking for architects or engineers,” says Kaisha Ferguson, co-ordinator of the ECO Canada internship program. ECO Canada will begin accepting applications from companies in April 2014. (Interns can apply at any time.)
Once you’ve found an intern or co-op student, “You want to create an environment that provides a structure for learning,” advises Patrizi. Start by providing them with the same desk, phone, computer, tools and other resources you’d have for any other employee.
A key aspect for the employer is to provide a mentor to whom the intern will report, and from whom they’ll learn. The mentor should explain the corporate culture, introduce the intern to their co-workers, and provide a work structure and guidance on what’s expected of them each day. And don’t limit the learning experience to the office – if there’s an industry event going on, bring the intern along and introduce them to your peers.
Finally, provide feedback on performance, both during and after a placement. School-based internship programs will have some sort of formalized evaluation process. If there isn’t one, you should provide feedback to help the intern or co-op student understand how they performed, what they did well and where they need to improve, if applicable. Also, be prepared to provide a reference – your intern may request one.
Throughout the placement, mindset is key. Don’t think of an intern as someone to take care of mundane tasks. Instead, capitalize on their fresh perspective on how your business operates. “When the intern leaves, they should feel like they contributed something in a meaningful way,” says Patrizi. If so, they’ll become an ambassador for your company and, quite possibly, an employee.