How Can a Small Business Owner Create an Internship Program?

If you are a small business owner and you want to get an intern, then you are already on the right track to growing and expanding your business. Unlike larger, more established businesses, small business owners don’t have a human resources department that can help create an internship program. To further complicate the matter, most small business owners are so busy that they don’t think they have the time to manage an intern even if they got one.  Internships come in many different forms, but there are certain steps that everyone must take to ensure that the internship is a valuable experience for both the employer and the student. In this article, we are going to cover the legal issues surrounding internships, how to effectively structure the internship program, and some quick tips on how to mentor and manage an intern.

Before you start hiring interns, you are going to want to seek the advice of your attorney to make sure the internship opportunity is in accordance with the Department of Labor’s (DOL) regulations. The DOL outlines the legal requirements for compensation that distinguishes between an intern and an employee. If you plan on hiring interns for paid positions, then you shouldn’t have too much to worry about with legal issues. However, if you plan on hiring interns for unpaid positions or offering to help them receive academic credit, then you need to be extremely careful when designing the internship. The debate about unpaid internships is currently a very hot topic, so you should always consult your legal representative before you create an internship program.

Once the legal requirements are out of the way, you can create an internship program. One of the biggest things colleges look for when approving employers to offer internships is honesty in the job description. Many small business owners try to get an intern to help relieve them of some of their busy work, like filing or organizing mail. Most colleges will instantly deny a request like this because they want their students to get real world experience related to their major.  A good rule for employers to follow is to have the intern spend no less than 75% of their time working on real projects. If you don’t have a ton of work for the intern on a particular day, you can always let the intern sit in on meetings and conferences.  This may sound trivial to you, but it can be a major learning experience for the intern. Structuring your internship to be learning based will be mutually beneficial to both you and the intern. You get an intern to help you on your projects and an extra set of ears in case you miss anything from meetings. At the same time, the intern gets to work on real projects and gain professional experience.

One of the top reasons that small business owners say they don’t hire interns is because they don’t think they have enough time to manage an intern. However, the amount of productivity that an intern can bring to a small business is worth the time to get an intern. By giving feedback and guiding the intern in the right direction, you can make sure that you are receiving high quality work. Many companies hire interns with the end goal that when they graduate they will be able to be promoted to a full time position. By being a good mentor, you can establish a professional relationship with the intern and understand their capabilities better than you ever could through an interview.

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