Interns Should be More Than Your Coffee Lackey

Many years ago, interns used to be called “apprentices.” In these roles, the mentor would teach the apprentice how to do the job, provide details about the industry, and give a realistic expectations. The mentor took time to add value to the individual they were teaching and, as a result, allowed the individual to gain skills and knowledge to perform well once they were ready to start their career. In present day, interns are joked to be the “coffee lackey” or the “errand runner” for the company they’re “working” at. Sadly, these terms came about because some companies have delegated these tasks to the individuals who initially came there to learn. But how is getting a coffee order right going to help anyone?

As a support system and mentor for some of my interns, I often have a weekly call with them to discuss some of the things they’re learning from the team/department they’re interning in. I’ll attempt to answer any questions, build a support system, and offer some guidance. Of course, I’m always intrigued to hear about their previous interning experiences compared to their current ones and also to hear about their dislikes and likes from each experience. Needless to say, it shocked me when I heard that there are plenty of times when these interns literally were delegated the bare minimum. They’d tell me that these situations didn’t allow them to learn anything useful and that they felt like they wasted their time. More importantly, their experience at the company made them want to rule it out as a potential employer down the line.

What bothers me about this situation is the fact that we’re not doing anything or anyone justice if we aren’t utilizing our interns the best that we can. These interns come to companies in hopes to get a realistic view of what the world of work really is like. They came to put their school studies to practice and build their skills in ways that textbooks and classrooms can’t provide. They’re making a conscious effort to build their resumes so they are an attractive candidate once they’re ready for full-time work. They came to your company because they potentially wanted to build a relationship so you could consider them once you had a relevantjob opening. And how are they repaid for their effort? By having companies waste their time and make them feel expendable.

Here comes the irony: I often hear recruiters and hiring managers complain that there isn’t enough good talent for their entry-level positions. The reason for this is because some companies have turned internships into an opportunity to have someone do the unfavorable tasks that they don’t want to do rather than actually mentoring them. This could be an opportunity to allow them to reach their potential. As a company that has internship programs, it’s your responsibility to help build the talent for the future workforce. If you want great employees coming out of college, then it’s imperative for you to help them build their skills at a time where they are eager and inspired to learn.

Interns come to companies with natural motivation, desire to learn, drive, and ambition. They’re hopeful for their future and are looking up to their mentors to guide them in the right direction. Essentially, mentors of the internship programs are the ones who are helping shape our upcoming workforce. What are you doing to help contribute?

If this topic interests you, be sure to join in or listen to the #InternPro radio show.

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