Is it worth bringing an intern into your business?

Is it worth bringing an intern into your business?
Enterprise Nation
Enterprise NationEnterprise Nation

Posted: Mon 8th Apr 2013

An intern can bring extra resources into start-ups and growing businesses without significant outlay. But it's important not to simply view the intern as free labour, says Danielle McDonald of Vibrant People. Aside from being illegal, a well-run internship can have many benefits for your small enterprise.

Small business HR | Danielle McDonald of Vibrant People

Have you ever thought about what it will be like when you have a team? Ahhh, such a great feeling, writes Danielle (left). The thing is, this kind of thought can become a reality sooner than you think. Even if it's just for a short period of time. Depending on how much attention you pay to the media, there is a constant focus on internships. Are they right or immorally wrong? One answer to this is: 'It depends on the status of the internship (worker or non-worker) and how you treat an individual'.

An internship should be a great experience and one of value. Having someone be a tea-maker and photocopier isn't the best use of their skills and abilities. If you've completed an internship in the past, how was the experience for you? How would you like to be treated if you had to do an internship?

Internships - what you can do

You can take on a student who needs to do a work placement as part of their college or university course without paying National Minimum Wage (NMW). It's common to pay for their travel expenses, which also widens the talent pool.

"An internship should be a great experience and one of value. Having someone be a tea or coffee-maker and photocopier isn't the best use of their skills and abilities."

Rickie's coffee pot

If a person wishes to 'volunteer' their time to your company with no set hours or responsibilities, and are able to come and go as they please, they are not covered by NMW.

What you should avoid when taking on an intern

You must avoid advertising for an unpaid intern, who is not studying and will effectively be doing a 'real job' with set hours and job responsibilities. Why? Technically, the person can be considered a worker and would therefore be entitled to NMW. Taking on a person who just wants some experience, is not studying but happy to work for free? That's choppy waters. The NMW cannot be waived even if someone doesn't want to be paid. 'Who's going to find out?', you might ask. Well, someone might - so ask whether it's a risk worth taking and whether doing this actually falls into line with you ethical values. The potential damage to your brand reputation and the risk of having to pay backdated wages from the date the internship commenced probably isn't worth the risk.

The benefits of interns

Taking someone on as an intern can be brilliant for you, your business and the person. Who doesn't like benefits? The benefits to you and your business:

How many hats do you wear in your business? Marketing, PR, finance, IT, sales"¦ An intern can wear one of those hats for you for a period and bring fresh ideas to your business while doing so.

If all goes well, your intern might even become a future member of your team when you're ready to take someone on as an employee. Having done an internship with you, they would understand your vision, how your business operates and be able to hit the ground running.

The benefits to an intern:

"If you've provided an interesting and valuable internship, then the intern will be happy to tell people how great it was working for your business."

Communication channels: Texting cyclist

Working for a small business, an intern has more scope to gain experience across different areas, as well as within their chosen career field. They will be able to add something substantial to their CV and boost their employability.

Beyond this, they can also become a walking recommendation for your business. If you've provided an interesting and valuable internship, then when the intern moves on they'll be happy to tell people how great it was working for your business. Word-of-mouth recommendation is extremely powerful and it's worth investing the time in making an internship genuinely worthwhile for this reason alone.

Useful internship links:

Danielle McDonald runs Vibrant People, providing practical and realistic HR consultancy to new and growing businesses. She also works as a coach and mentor for young entrepreneurs with The Prince's Trust.

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Photo credits: Andrew Hitchcock (main) Rickie Josen (coffee pot), Pixel Addict (cyclist)

Enterprise Nation
Enterprise NationEnterprise Nation
Enterprise Nation has helped thousands of people start and grow their businesses. Led by founder, Emma Jones CBE, Enterprise Nation connects you to the resources and expertise to help you succeed.

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