I am the HR manager of a large Information Technology company. We are working with JVS Toronto’s newcomer employment program that offers employers a two-month unpaid coop placement internships with insurance coverage for their clients who are internationally trained professionals from various fields, including IT.
I am interested in offering a placement to a couple of talented newcomers clients from this program. How do I facilitate an effective internship experience for these skilled new immigrants that will hopefully lead to full-time employment, if this works out for both sides?
Signed: Success Seeker
Dear Success Seeker,
Based on my observations and experience, I have identified the following seven criteria for a successful internship program, partly inspired by Nathan Parcelis’ (June 2014) insightful article, titled The Seven Habits of a Highly Effective Intern Program:
1. Prepare a plan for “converting interns to hires”
Engage the candidate in your standard formal interview process to determine if the intern could turn into an employee. This pre-screening can do wonders later on to ensure a good fit with your team and culture, as well as identify if the candidate has the skills required.
2. Set clear learning goals, expectations and structure.
Make sure there is a formal contract/agreement indicating the learning goals of the student as well as the outcomes desired by the employer. The placement should be treated by the intern as a real job. Students should be encouraged to be transparent with their schedule. If he or she has a job interview or appointment, the supervisor should be advised. The hours and days should be indicated in the contract. If the intern has exams or school work, there should be accommodations for this too.
3. Create a structure. The best intern programs have a long-term focus and a structure.
The intern should have a job title, know their duties, roles and responsibilities are, and whom they can talk to when they have questions, to eliminate confusion. Give interns one or two overarching projects that will last the entire placement, and allow them to contribute something substantial to the team. Meanwhile, interns can be given smaller projects and tasks throughout the internship that help expand that their knowledge, expertise and exposure to their field.
4. Make sure the experience is relevant to the student’s career/employment goals and profession.
This might mean connecting the student with junior and senior managers, and the executives during their internship. Or it might mean instructing your managers to clearly connect the dots for interns on how their work fits into larger company and departmental goals.
5. Keep the intern involved.
Introduce the student to all staff members of the company. This would include an overview of routines and processes such as signing in and out, parking, file retrieval etc. Let the intern know your schedule. Make them feel wanted. Invite them to meetings, corporate events as well as social events. Interns should learn what it is like to be part of your company as well as to contribute to it. Nothing is more misleading than an internship that doesn’t accurately reflect the work environment of a full-time employee. Immersing interns in the company culture helps them make better decisions about long-term employment with your company.
6. Mentoring from within.
It is a very effective strategy to connect the student with a mentor in their department. It’s helpful for the new placement student to have a person to go to for problem solving, questions, intercultural communication issues, such as those experienced by newcomers to Canada. The mentor can take a supervisory role, as well.
Parcelis recommends that the supervisor and student meet formally at least three times during the placement. In my experience it can be more informal, as it depends on context, deadlines, work and the workplace culture. The most essential characteristic of good supervision is feedback on students’ performance including successes and growth areas. This is an integral part of their development and learning.
Feedback should come from the supervisor, and should be ongoing and frequent. In order to learn from mistakes students must be informed of them so they can be given the opportunity to correct them. Feedback should be honest, clear, immediate, direct and stated in understandable language.
Best wishes for your new Internship program. We look forward to working with you.