I’m a self-confessed entrepreneur with all the trappings of bootstrapping, scaling grand ideas, and being an early adopter. And I am also a big believer--in interns.
Internship programs have gotten a lot of flack of late. They are not free labor. They shouldn't be treated as such, and quite frankly, they aren't anyway. Management is time, which equals money. "Returns" (people seeking second careers) and interns can be an amazing, long-term asset to your company. They can save you thousands or even millions of dollars.
We have more than 10 returnships and internships at UniversalGiving , and we’ve found it to be a very positive experience. It’s our goal to provide them a great work environment, ownership, management guidance and a positive atmosphere. We also achieve many of our goals through them. It turns out to be very productive for both.
First, interns are not about age or recent grads. These days, people are soul-searching. We're talking about forty- and fiftysomethings wanting to find a way to contribute with impact, and ideally meaning, at your company. We call these "returnships." Some are not sure what they want to do and would like to try out a new skill. Others are trying out our industry. Some simply need a kind, structured, productive environment while seeking employment. Some just need a break.
Our solution: We give them all great experience and put them right to work. Even if they eventually decide it is not for them, they have learned a lot, and we have benefited. We organize the tasks so that they build to our goals. Those who move past “Level 1″ of marketing research, for example, might be advanced to handling marketing partnerships. In essence, whether it is employees, interns, or volunteers, good management and proper delegation per each skill level is essential.
Yet what's really critical is that often our interns are a feeder to employment: They might “graduate” to consultant and then to employee. We see this often, and it's mutually determining the following: Is this a good "professional marriage"?
It allows both parties to see if the skills fit, and if the values fit. Someone could be talented yet not enjoy our culture, or we might not feel alignment. Rather than try to determine a good fit by interviews (and some people are great at interviewing, but not necessarily great for the job), we both get practical experience working together.
If you aren't convinced interns are the way to go, or you think they are too much time, you might want to rethink. The cost of a wrong hire can be thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars. You've spent the time training, then there is a vacuum in your organization when they go. You've spent 3, 4, 6 months of your employees' time (= expensive) getting someone up to speed. Then your employees need to get someone new up to speed. But first, they have to begin the rehiring process, again. More money. More time. More weight on the organization.
And don't forget the morale cost. This is where it is most heavy on the team, and we have to be considerate of our people. We should respect the energy and investment of their time.
To spell it out, the typical costs of recruiting and hiring, according to GradStaff , are:
$5,700 - $8,900: Average amount to recruit for an entry-level position
$1,000 - $1,500: Average amount to train a new employee
$5,700 - $8,900: Cost of second recruitment round
$1,000 - $1,500: Cost of second training round
The total morale cost depends on how many people were affected, but suffice it to say it's significant.
So contribute to the bottom line by cultivating returnships and internships as part of your team. Grow these contributors, embrace them, and help them succeed. Within a matter of weeks, they can be inspired and reach their goals, while also making a measurable impact on your work. For proof's sake, our top two leaders started out in "returnships." They were seasoned executives returning to a new career path, and are now fully on staff.
Statistics Source: GradStaff 
[Image: Flickr user Blip ou Bruno Veloso ]