Internships have long been a way for people to get a taste of an industry and gain valuable experience. In the best of circumstances, internships offer newcomers an entry level opportunity and give the company additional support. In recent years, companies have started to reevaluate how they run their internship programs. Long the standard, unpaid internships have come under criticism for exploiting workers and offering an opportunity only the financially secure can afford to undertake. With these challenges in mind, let’s take a look at two successful internship programs.
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Know The Rules
One critical thing to consider before embarking on any internship program is to understand the nature of your state employment laws. “There’s a big legal component to internship programs and you have to be very careful,” says Celine Frueh, the Human Resources Director at Allagash Brewing in Portland, Maine. “We worked with our attorney to make sure that everything we were doing was above board.” Frueh advises others “do not wing it.”
Have A Plan For Your Interns
Companies that fail to properly structure their internship programs are setting themselves up for problems. “So this idea that ‘we’ll just find someone who’s really smart and then once they get here, we’ll just figure it out together,’ that’s where I’ve seen internships really flounder,” says Frueh. “When there isn’t clear guidance, when people don’t understand the scope, how many hours will it be for, how long will it be, how many weeks will it go, who is the person I should be checking in with on a daily basis, what are my goals as an intern,” is when problems can arise. “The more clarity you have as an organization before you start, even the recruiting of the intern, the better.”
At Bissell Brothers in Portland, Maine, the intern program has a set curriculum spanning 160 hours of work. One of the program’s founders, brewer Hannah Hirsch, says that new interns spend a week in the cellar, then the brew deck, before moving on to work with the brewery’s quality control manager and helping manage yeast. “People get to see a full scope of everything within the brewery but with a focus on packaging, with the assumption that that will likely be the first job that they have when they enter production work,” she says.
In helping prepare interns to work in packaging, Bissell trains them on things like how to drive a forklift and other foundational skills so that once they finish the program, they are certified and ready for work. Hirsch and Bissell’s Production Manager Paul Upham worked together to develop the program and started by asking some basic questions. “What’s it going to be like to have a brand new person on the floor? And how can we all sort of shoulder this responsibility of teaching a new person how to exist in this environment, be useful in this environment, and do it in a way that’s hopefully not super intimidating,” Hirsch says.
Pay Your Interns
Interns were long viewed as free labor by many companies. The idea of not paying interns is no longer the standard and our sources highly recommend that you pay your interns. “All of our internships are paid,” says Frueh. “Unpaid internships are becoming fewer and further between. I would strongly caution people against that. There have been a lot of cases recently where it has been viewed by the courts that employers are trying to exploit people who want to get their foot in the door.” Frueh offers a straightforward rule. “If someone is doing work that benefits you as a company, then pay them.”
Using Your Internship Program To Diversify The Industry
At Bissell Brothers, Hirsch, Upham, and other employees wanted to create a program to provide hands-on education and experience to individuals and groups that are often underrepresented in the beer industry. “As a woman who has worked in this industry for a long time now, I have had my own barriers to enter the positions,” says Hirsch. “I’ve seen over and over again, people apply for positions within production that they might not be qualified for but are passionate about and would really love the opportunity to experience. And I think that one of the best things that we can do for people is to give them a chance.”
“So the idea behind the program was to create a pathway for people who have zero experience,” says Upham.”There is a very high barrier to get into the industry. And then you can kind of bounce around and gain experience, but just getting there can be really tough. So much of the program was to give people those foundational skills and a pathway to get in.”
Allagash partners with two local nonprofits to help focus its efforts on building pathways to employment for recent immigrants to Maine. The brewery works with In Her Presence and Portland Adult Education to help recruit candidates who work in the tasting room and the warehouse. Frueh says the company began the internship program with the goal of expanding the talent pool in Portland to underrepresented groups. “We wanted to have a more diverse workforce that more accurately represented the community that we live in and do business,” she says. Frueh says the partnerships have been critical to the success of Allagash’s three year old internship program and has helped the brewery connect with a talented group of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East that have settled in Portland.
Offering Flexibility And Support
“We’ve realized that another barrier to entry for an internship can be that it’s hard to give up your job for four to six weeks,” Hirsch says. “So we allow people the choice between full time and part time.”
Another key component of a successful internship program is supervision. At Allagash, each intern is assigned a mentor and that is key, says Abby Fisher, the Human Resources Manager at the brewery. “Our feedback from all of our past interns has been that [the mentorship component] has been so valuable,” she says. “Having someone who’s not necessarily the person’s manager, someone to help with all aspects, an additional person to ask questions to, to go to lunch with, to help with social aspects of the role and helping feel included in the company. That was so critical for all the interns that we’ve had.”