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Productivity

Shiny and bright: Interns invigorate business

Alexandra Cain
Business Journalist

Alexandra Cain writes regularly for the small business sections of The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and Australian Financial Review

Alexandra Cain
Business Journalist

Alexandra Cain writes regularly for the small business sections of The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and Australian Financial Review

Many businesses are discovering the value of employing interns and apprentices as a source of fresh and inexpensive young talent. So build a relationship with a local university and college that offers courses in your field to get access to the cream of the graduating crop.

Interning has come a long way since the days when graduates would routinely take unpaid work to further their careers and spend the bulk of the time running errands, making tea and coffee or tied to the photocopier.

Today, interns form an important part of many business’ human resources strategy. They are great ways for small businesses to identify emerging talent and test whether they fit in with their culture. So how can you ensure the business makes the most of this often inexpensive, or even free, resource?

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Planning for success

Grant Titmus, principal of communication group The Red Agency, explains that his business has a long history of drawing on a pool of talented interns to supplement the work done by other staff. He says it’s important to manage interns so they have the right opportunity to succeed.

“We treat interns as an extension of our team. It's important to treat them in the same way as you would treat other staff. We do this by encouraging them to speak up, ask questions and also involve them in as many different areas of the business as possible,” says Titmus.

“By creating a comfortable work environment, interns learn what it's like to work in an agency environment, and to also tackle projects with the new skills they've acquired. We have so many interns telling us they are very grateful for the way they have been treated and what they have learnt,” he explains.

Red Agency puts up to 15 people through its internship program each year, the majority of which are third-year students. They perform tasks such as media monitoring and reporting and attend events as well as some client meetings.

Titmus says there is a range of benefits available for businesses that take on apprentices or interns.

Win/win

“Having interns as part of your business is a two-way street. They get to learn about our industry and we get an additional staff member who can make a real contribution,” says Titmus.

“From an employer's perspective we get the chance to see which interns perform the best – who gets their work done efficiently and accurately, how they perform from a creative perspective and how they fit into our culture. There have been many occasions where we have kept interns on and offered them full-time positions,” he adds.

Interns and apprentices are also a great way to keep new ideas and fresh blood flowing through the business, helping to keep other staff engaged and on point. It’s a win/win situation for everyone in the business. 

Three steps to interning success

  1. Set out a clear program for the intern at the start of the period so both sides have a clear understanding of the role and the expectations of the intern
  2. Treat interns as you would any other staff. This will help develop a great relationship that can continue if the intern continues in paid employment with the business
  3. Deliver regular feedback to the intern during the program and remember interns are by definition inexperienced, so it’s important to encourage them to ask questions and seek guidance whenever they need it
Interns can be the next generation of business owners.

Understanding how business is looking in the future and the importance of scalability could help keep your business afloat.

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