Fostering Innovation through Internships

baby-businessIt’s that time of the year again when companies are starting to take on summer interns.  College kids all over the country are looking to gain valuable work experience in the industry they plan to work in, with hopes of the added cash bonus to survive the summer.  And companies all over the country are looking to fill minute holes they have at the bottom levels of the business.

It’s the typical cycle. They will get hands on experience, you’ll get someone to fill out paperwork, and come August or September, everything will go back to normal.  Nothing changes.

Now, what if you rethink what an internship is all about?  What if you let yourself believe that summer interns could actually do something important?

Think of it in a couple of different ways.  First, there is the “fresh eyes” perspective. Interns are brand new to the company, and unlike those employees that have been working in the business so long, they have not been trained into routines and habits.  They can see things as they really are, everything that is good, and everything that is bad.  Throughout the summer give them opportunities to voice suggestions, open complaints, and communicate back and forth with employees on every level of the organization.  This gives the interns a real voice within the company, which is very valuable to them.  But it also gives you a chance to see the company from the outside again, and will open up some very real suggestions of how things can be improved.

Second, there is the “do something new” perspective.  You’re company works without interns.  So now that you have the interns here, why not use them to do something that you were not doing before they got here.  Have them test out a new system or product.  Have them handle a series of focus groups, design surveys, contact old customers.  Maybe there is a new market that you are looking into.  Send them out with a top level employee to do research and analytics.  Use their motivation, curiosity and desire to learn to open up new doors for you and the company.  There is always ground level work to be done in any new venture, so why not get it done while you have the extra man power.

View summer internships as an opportunity not only for them, but for the business as a whole.  You can get ideas rolling, new projects off the ground, and create a whole team of brand evangelists by giving them real responsibility and creating an opportunity for them to grow.

It’s time to rethink internships.  They are only around for a couple of months, but they are the future of the workforce that you are grooming.  Treat them that way and the company will be all the better for it.

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