Internships and apprenticeships are a win for everyone involved. Students get course credit for the time they spend getting real-world experience that they can add to their post-graduation resumes. Employers have access to young, eager minds who will possibly even bring a new perspective on the business model they’ve worked hard to build. Colleges can strengthen their relationships with the community by providing talented students to area businesses.
Unfortunately, too many employers cross the line when it comes to student labor. If your business is considering using interns or apprentices, it’s imperative that you stay on the right side of the law. Pushing that line means you may find yourself faced with audits and hefty fines for violating labor regulations. Here are a few things you should consider before adding an internship program to your business.
Review Laws Carefully
Labor laws can vary dramatically from one area to the next, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with all of those laws before your intern works a single day. You may want to put policies and procedures in place specific to your interns and have them sign that they’ve read them as part of their orientation process. This could reduce your liability if your apprentice does something that becomes an issue.
Pay for Work
One of the biggest problems businesses get into is when they bring unpaid interns in to perform work. There are strict regulations for unpaid labor. Essentially, if your interns aren’t being paid, they are there in a teaching capacity and shouldn’t be helping your business complete daily tasks. If anything, their presence should take time away from employees’ duties as they teach the interns. If you plan to get work out of your interns, you’ll need to pay.
At the end of each intern’s term with your business, provide the information necessary to request references and recommendations from you. If an intern is ready to start a career, offer something with your organization if you can. If not, contact colleagues or offer recommendations for opportunities. If your internship program leads to paid opportunities, schools are more likely to send future students to you.
Provide a Mentor
From the day an intern starts, assign a mentor who can work one on one with the person. The intern should shadow the mentor throughout the day and learn as much as possible. Once the internship is complete, encourage your mentors to stay in touch with former interns to help them as they graduate and start their own careers.
Partner with Local Schools
Some local colleges have internships that are a required part of a student’s curriculum. To graduate, those students need to spend a designated period of time working within a chosen major. By partnering with those schools, you can make sure your program meets school requirements and the school, in turn, will recommend your business to students.
Share Success Stories
Don’t keep your intern program’s success a secret. When the term is up, offer to speak to other students in the program about it. You’ll get bonus points if you can include one of your former intern in classroom presentations, especially if that person has successfully progressed to a career in his or her major. In addition to businesses generating interest from students in working for them, the school will be able to build buzz around its internship program.
Interns and apprentices are a great way to bring new energy into your business. If you plan to bring interns in to help lighten your workload, however, plan to pay a wage in accordance with labor laws. Unpaid interns are on site exclusively for the educational experience.