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The Benefits of Interns: More Than Coffee and Copies

by Mar 26, 2007, 1:56 pm ET

Candidates with hands-on experience can help diversify the applicant pool and battle the worker shortage. Yet there is still a “huge blind-spot over the value of internship programs,” and Z University.org is attempting to correct this oversight.

The workforce readiness company dedicated to promoting internships recently completed a five-year study that demonstrates that employers can use college interns to gain substantial productivity gains and even do so without hosting students on site.

The study was conducted through “live” internship programs through 14 academic terms, and it also applied a unique virtual program management model.

Specifically, the study found that companies can significantly boost workplace productivity by putting students to work. For example, a single, qualified manager can gain 225 full 8-hour workdays in a calendar year.

And a virtual program proves that companies don’t need to have office space or incur onsite technology costs to manage interns effectively.

“A common misconception is that organizations and individuals don’t have the time to run an internship program,” says Matthew Zinman, president of Z University.

“What employers and managers need to realize is that they don’t have the time not to have interns. The students are highly capable of contributing all kinds of business value. And, when well-managed, the amount of time that interns contribute yields far more productivity,” he says.

Simply put, Zinman says interns can help a company do more.

“All employers need to do is make an organization commitment to an internship system and have supervisors reprioritize some of their time to oversee students and get projects off the proverbial backburner,” Zinman explains.

For example, he recommends using students’ technology expertise and applied classroom learning to support marketing efforts, operational needs, and business intelligence work for clients and partners.

To help companies figure out how to make the most of student help, Zinman has assembled the Intern Toolkit, a resource to help employers manage internship programs.

It features nearly 60 components among seven modules: program planning; recruitment; screening and hiring; orientation; work management; performance measurement; and skills development.

(In addition, the company has a video that will start shipping on March 26.)

The toolkit also features “a lot of dynamics on compensation,” says Zinman.

“We absolutely recommend you compensate your interns. If you want the best interns, it makes sense to pay them. Our position is absolutely, yes, you should pay,” he adds.

Internships as Interview?

A poll by CareerExposure.com finds that 94% of employers ultimately offer full-time positions to interns.

“Internships are the ideal interview tool,” said JillXan Donnelly, president of CareerExposure.com.

The company says internships let employers have the opportunity to evaluate potential new hires and determine whether the candidate is a good fit for the organization.

The majority of survey respondents agreed that internships provide real-world experience regarding a respective industry and/or organization, and it helps employers determine a fit prior to making an official commitment.

Interns who responded to the survey offered their advice to employers on creating the perfect internship, including connect interns with mentors; be clear on expectations; and make the most of the internship by assigning meaningful projects.

Paying for Internships

There are also a variety of companies that are working to pair students with the “right” internship, such as Fast Track Internships, University of Dreams, and Intern Abroad.

For example, University of Dreams, which formed in 2000, counts 400 participating universities. Nearly 95% of the internships are unpaid, but University of Dreams says it arranges credit through students’ respective universities.

However, the price does not seem easy on a college student’s budget. Fees for the “all-inclusive service” range from $6,499 for an internship in Chicago to $8999 for an internship in London.

Does the high price tag result in a better shot at recruiters taking notice of these workers with hands-on skills? Although less than the high CareerExposure accounts, University of Dreams says 43% of its “Class of 2005″ interns received offers to return as full-time employees or interns.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.