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Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we talk about embracing humanity in the workplace. I’m Susan White, a national HR consultant, and I’m here with JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink and author of “JoyPowered®,” a book that is gaining in popularity around the world. Today we’re going to talk about why companies offer internships. What are companies hoping to get out of it, risks that they should avoid when starting up an intern program, and what resources are out there that you could tap into to help you. JoDee, I have experienced building internships inside a large corporate environment and hiring people from a variety of colleges. I know you’ve got experience, not only from your past working in the corporate environment, but also owning your own company. Do you have some thoughts on it?
I’m just a big fan of internships, whether formal or informal. I’ve hired many, many interns over the years in both Purple Ink and in smaller corporate environments, and when it’s done well, it can just create so much success, both for the intern candidate who can be a future recruiter for your organization and for the entire organization as well.
Terrific. Well, today, we do have a special guest on this topic – he’s actually a subject matter expert on internships – Chris Hoyt. Chris is the owner of Apprenace, a company he started a year and a half ago that specializes in helping companies build robust and meaningful intern programs. So Chris, welcome to the show.
Hey, we were very interested in learning, first of all, why did you start a company around internships?
So that was actually a very long journey. Basically, we had a marketing company that I was working in, and when I say we, some of the people who are with my internship company now were actually with me in that marketing company. And we had just hit a point where we had some small businesses and nonprofits who couldn’t really afford our full rates, and we didn’t like turning them down. We wanted to be players in the community. Then we kept getting these internship applications from people wanting to work with us. Our reputation was growing. And we finally said, let’s just put a program together where we take people who are fresh out of college with marketing degrees, maybe graphic design, web developers, and let’s match them up with some of these needs we’re getting from smaller businesses and nonprofits. That way, they don’t have to pay full market rates, and the interns can get some experience. We designed the program mostly just to break even, we weren’t trying to make a lot of money on it. So we did that for a while. For various reasons, just diverting attention, we had to stop. Still didn’t think a lot of it at the time. Then I left and had started building a life as a consultant, and the different clients I was working with were having interns, and I kept seeing the same thing over and over. “I don’t know what to do with my interns.” The interns are frustrated because they don’t know what they should be doing. And so I started helping my clients develop their internship programs and manage their interns. So it was through that very long process of the universe kind of bashed me on the head over this, that I finally said, you know, maybe this is a need in the market.
Chris, I think it’s such a great idea, because I worked with interns, even right out of college my company had hired interns year after year after year, so I was always very comfortable with that concept and working with them. But I’ve recommended to so many companies since then that they also consider hiring interns, and I just think they don’t know what to do with them, how to take the time to train them, or what they can give them and what they can’t give them, so I think it’s terrific that you’re helping companies and helping interns at the same time.
I gotta say, Chris, it’s interesting that the need, I think, first surfaced when there’s businesses out there who really need help, but maybe they’re a small business, they’re growing, and as you mentioned, they don’t really have the funds, maybe, to hire somebody, like, you know, you or your fully baked talent, but you can sometimes bring somebody in with very limited skills. Have you had some employers say, “I want to do an internship, sure, but I don’t want to have to pay them. I don’t have to pay them, do I?”
Right. So unpaid internships had a notorious reputation through the internet boom in the aughts, high growth tech startups especially. But even today, there is some activity going on with insurance companies and people who do high volume of cold call sales, and the idea is that, you know, we’ll pay interns very little or nothing, and the promise is, well, you’re working with this, you know, company that’s on the up and up. We’ll be Facebook someday, it’ll be good for your resume someday, so forth. Of course, those promises seldom, if ever, panned out, and a lot of complaints were filed. And I know here in Indiana, especially, they passed some legislation, basically say, you know, putting a lot more focus on the fact that if you’re going to have a free internship, you can’t be using it for profit directly, you know, or for your bottom line, you have to be doing it more as a community engagement activity. If you’re going to do free internship, it has to be community engagement activity, has to be something you’re giving back, you’re giving the intern education. So most internships today end up being paid, or they’ll start as free and then move to paid as they’re trained. And even then, though, if you’re not paying your interns the same wages or average industry rate as, you know, a full blown employee would be, you still have to show at some point that you’re giving them a level of education that makes it worth the trade off, that you are giving something back to really justify it’s an internship, and the word intern doesn’t just mean I’m doing the same thing for less.
You know what, I think that’s terrific. And I appreciate the fact in Indiana that they’ve gotten so serious about it. The Department of Labor, as well, they’ve come out pretty strongly that an intern is not free slave labor. Right? You need to really take it seriously and give back a value. And of course, we’ve got, you know, federal regulations about minimum wage, and you certainly have to be honoring that if you are employing somebody in your workplace. Obviously, you know, you’ve…not only do you have businesses coming to you and saying we want to do an internship, but we don’t know where to get started. So what kind of advice do you give to that business that says, we want to have interns here, we believe in the whole concept, we want to make this a great, you know, give and take? Where do you begin?
Underlying internships is often…the subtext is the battle of the generations. So one of the things, that double-edged sword with internships, is that young people come with a lot of energy, a lot of creativity, a lot of innovation, and a lot of inherent talent. But on the downside, they lack professional skills, they lack communication skills, they lack an understanding of work culture, oftentimes, and…and they’re kind of this combination of used to, you know, from…from most of their life experience being school, they have the strange combination of both needing to be told what to do, but also wanting to do their own thing. And so where most businesses stumble, initially, is not in the skills of actually doing a job, but the skills of being a functioning professional. And so where we start with our internship programs is helping companies understand their internal culture, understand what it is that they look for, even just from their own employees in that way, and look at the kind of places they’re gonna be getting interns from and start talking through an initial curriculum. And we don’t approach curriculums in the sense of…. I’ll give an example. If I’m hiring a web developer as an intern, these kids, they’re…they’re smart. They know how to Google. They know how to learn on their own. I’m not necessarily having to teach that web developer how to make a website. What I am having to teach them how to do is project manage, self-manage, how to communicate properly with their teammates, and so our curriculums are centered around that. And then, you know, once we have had that discussion over what an intern needs to go through to be a part of your team, then we can start looking at, too, where would be good places to go get those interns from.
Chris, I think of companies hiring interns for three different reasons, but tell me if you agree or what other experiences you’ve had. One is for future full-time hires. So they’re testing the market a bit to see what interns they might want to hire down the road or make offers to at the end. One is because they need help in the moment, and it’s an inexpensive, or sometimes, as you mentioned, even free way to get help. And third is just because they’re being nice. That is, someone’s child, someone’s neighbor’s student is home for the summer and they need something to do, and they’re trying to be nice, to help them out. Are those the three core reasons you see, too?
Yeah, definitely nails it on the head. And those are all extremely different what I would call programs or curriculums. The first…I just want to…let me go one at a time. The first one is, my favorite program for that is what I kind of call “Intern Survivor.” An intern program can be an amazing way to build your team, and it has benefits for everyone. With a program like that, the idea is to have an introductory level internship program that lasts around three months, and these usually work best over the summer. And for these, you hire at least two, if not three to four, interns. The point is to have them doing more training, focusing on set exercises that don’t threaten your critical business operations. But then at the end of that, too, as the internship programs come to an end, figure out if you want to offer a more substantial program to one or two of those interns to continue maybe as part-time work through the fall as they go back to school, or if they’re graduating, just maybe that’s something that would work well for them, which often happens. When we, at our marketing company, ran this internship program, we ended up hiring a third of those interns.
Wow. Kind of a try before you buy process.
Yeah. And the great part is you normally, in the business world, don’t get to have that long period of interacting with someone before you hire them. An internship program is your way to really get to know someone so that hiring is an almost no-risk situation. And people already realize that in the world of business, we kind of have our own little worlds. So you’re already struggling with the idea that you might be retraining people, if they’ve been in, you know…it’s nice to get someone with 10 years experience, but they’re used to doing things their way. A lot of times, again, internships can be not just a way to do a favor, but to legitimately build your team.
Kind of mold them in the vision that you’ve got and the culture that you have.
Right. All right, now, my memory is not that good today. What was number two?
Just because you needed the help.
Oh, right. Okay. So that’s where we fall into the danger of the slave labor internship.
And so, the thing that’s important for me is, let’s make a deal. On our website, we call it “the grand bargain,” which means you may need some work, you may need some help, but let’s make sure that we are giving back appropriately to any intern that you hire. So the idea is to say, let’s take this work and use it as a baseline to establish an educational program around. And let’s make sure that we’re not just having them do these things you need help with, but getting some variety of experience and setting some goals, so that by the time they’re done, yes, you have gotten that help you need, but at the same time, they have some legitimate experience to put on their resume.
You know, Chris, I would love to just ask you – and I know we still have to get to our third type here – but some colleges and universities will work with employers to…if it’s a really good school experience, to make it part of maybe a credit earning opportunity. Have you seen that happen much?
Yeah, a few of the internships we’ve done intersected with a business that already had a working relationship in that way. We are hoping to expand that. We soft launched a year and a half ago, we’re going to have a bigger launch this year, pushing out more PR, and we do hope that we can get more involved proactively with educational institutions in the area for that purpose. So that’s definitely a big, big deal. We wanted to prove it worked before we sat out and spent more time building those relationships.
I do think that is a good clarification, Susan, on…on maybe what an intern really is. Are you just hiring a college student, or do you have a…Is it a formal internship that the school has accepted as an internship credit? In my experience, most of that has come from the student’s choice, because if a student is getting three credit hours for it, for example, they then have to pay for the class at the school. So if they need the credits, or they need to show they’ve completed an internship, they pay for the credits. But if they don’t need the hours, typically it’s not…they don’t need it to count as a formal school internship, but still works either way for the employer .
Two of our internships that we actually wrapped up, they were school year internships. They needed the internships to graduate, so it was a…it was a requirement. So we had to help them get internships just so that they could get the credits they need. The other thing to keep in mind is that in Indiana, there is a program where Indiana will pay or subsidize some of your intern wages, depending on the nature of the work.
That’s terrific. It’s interesting, I reflect on my own son, he went to Purdue and they have a very strong placement office and they really do start preparing, at least business school students, I’m sure they probably do the same with engineering, but you know, sophomore year, about looking at the companies you might want to work with in the future and how do you present yourself when the internship opportunities come along. I think they even have an internship fair that he attended. He ended up doing an internship at Boeing, which was very helpful.
Right. I do think it’s a great idea for companies who might be considering having interns to partner with a school, because typically, then, if the school is requiring interns, they also require some checkpoints where the student has to be evaluated, the process has to be evaluated. So if you haven’t created that on your own, the school sort of creates that for you.
We have a proprietary secret sauce to our internship placement that we’re pretty proud of at this point, and I don’t want to give it all away, but one of the ways I’ll give it away is to say writing skills is a strong part of that. That’s one of the biggest ways that we are able to filter and find candidates that are almost certain to work well with a company, and we use this process, you know, we’ve in a month screened 100 interns for a job. It would be almost impossible if we didn’t have the process in place that we do.
Well, that’s a good teaser. So the third way JoDee mentioned, I think, was it’s a relative, it’s one of your best employees’ nephew or son or daughter.
Yeah, and they come to you and say, we really need for them to get an internship, it’s going to be valuable to them as they ultimately seek their career. I think that was the third way that JoDee mentioned.
Yeah, our soft launch included a fair amount of those. We kind of asked what the level of seriousness here is. Is it that this relative, you know, needs an intern because they just need an internship, or do they need an internship because they really are looking to start their career? And so we, depending on the answer to that, they’ll fall back into one or two. So they’ll either fall into a, alright, we’re just going to help you figure out a way to make their time with you more of a professional experience and get them to…to build some career skills with their time, or we are going to build an intentional, like, you are kind of, this internship is a little bit of a…you might, you know, get a job offer. And I want to be clear, because I’ve had lots of legal advice. You never ever imply that a job is guaranteed or likely through an internship. Everyone knows that’s a possibility, but you always have to make sure you’re never leading an intern on.
Chris you’re trying to work with, or you are working with, companies to help them avoid mistakes in hiring interns or in launching internship programs. But what mistakes have you seen companies make who’ve tried to do this on their own?
So the biggest one kind of goes back to what I referred earlier. Most businesses expect that the intern will be good at being a professional, but need coaching to learn the skills for the job, when in fact, it’s normally the opposite. The interns pick up on the skills quickly, if not completely on their own, but they have no ability, or very little, to have what we call “executive functionality.” That’s one of the biggest ones. The second biggest mistake that’s made, and I’m going to be very careful how I say this, because I dont want to put too much bad blood as we are trying to build partnerships with local educational institutions. People don’t know where they best fit in the professional world, and it takes someone with experience, normally, to help a young person figure out where their talents and passions will fit. Since we have a system where kids often get very little coaching ahead of time and they pick their majors or they pick their direction with very little experience in the workplace, they often enter or nearing the end of their college degree still in kind of a bit of an off fit. So, for example, in marketing, a firm may see someone with a graphic design degree and think, you know, this person might be a good graphic design intern. When I have learned that with just, you know, a little bit of conversation with the person, you may realize, no, they’re a writer. No, they’re a journalist. No, they’re a video producer. No, they’re more of a web designer. No, they’re more of an animator. All of those things might still fall under a graphic design degree. But you might be setting both of you up for failure by…by just assuming that means they’re right for your internship. So one of the things when we help people with recruiting and finding the right fit of an intern is, don’t assume that the degree means that the person is going to be a fit for you. And too often, businesses look at pedigree – so the right college, the right degree – rather than what we look at at Apprenace, which is passions, drive, inspiration.
Well, I think that’s a wonderful lens to put on it. I really do.
Right. I do wish, Chris, as we talk about colleges, I wish more colleges would require internships. I think the students would have a better understanding when they graduate of what…what types of roles they want, or maybe don’t want, or maybe even be able to change their major earlier on after getting some some hands-on work internships.
You know, think how about how many people graduate with an education degree and they go to student teaching at the very end of their career.
And they say, I’m never going back into a classroom.
That’s an excellent point.
You wouldn’t believe the amount of kids who get out of college who don’t know how to schedule a meeting with three or more people. Again, in a professional way, like confirming everyone’s available for the date, sending out a calendar invite, making sure everyone knows what the location is. That’s the kind of stuff interns…I mean, they’ll graduate with having no clue how to navigate just that.
Sure. JoDee and Chris, I’d be interested. Do you remember the movie called “The Intern” back in 2015? It starred Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway.
One of my favorites.
Yeah, I loved it, too. So I got to ask you both. What do you think the chances are that someone in their 70s will be selected as an intern at most companies?
So we try to use verbiage very carefully to say we are helping young people start their careers, or people who are simply young in their careers. We have had, although I will admit it is rare, people middle age or more who just want a career change, and so they’re interested in trying something new. I hear that every day, so that really does happen. I will admit, the challenges are typically more on the intern – Robert De Niro – side than the company side. Companies will be a lot more open-minded than you might think. But if you…and there are people who are older who have given themselves a lifelong habit of learning, but they are rare. But that’s, in the end, to me, any person, no matter how old you are, if you have kept up a habit of learning and reading and change is a part of who you are as a person, you know, then you’re never too old for an internship.
I’ve known two people who just recently, within the past year, although they didn’t call it or term it as an “internship,” but were looking for career changes and volunteered their time to a business to get a feel for what their skills were, how they could learn and develop, but also to offer value to the company, and both of them ended up with full-time positions. Even…one of them didn’t end up at the full-time position where she was, quote, “interning,” but allowed her to build the skills to figure out what she was good at, to land a job somewhere else. So I think whether or not we…we use that term “intern,” I think that concept of maybe working for a company at a lower rate or for free can be an excellent way to have those experiences at different positions.
The last thing I’ll say about that movie, though, for anyone who watches it, to point out the Hollywood part, Robert De Niro’s character, as it ended up in that movie, was less of an intern and more of a mentor, which, by the way, we also do, is help match people up with good mentors. Robert De Niro’s character is not someone I would have put into an internship. I would have put him into a mentoring position. You know, the reality is he was much more equipped…. You know, I think the movie was more about him being underestimated, so, you know, that…that’s kind of where I would…would frame that.
I just actually read an article in SHRM’s HR magazine about companies formalizing, quote, again, “mentoring” relationships where the younger person is mentoring the more experienced people. Maybe that’s a future podcast for us.
I love that. Reverse mentoring. Yeah, that’d be great. And before we let Chris go, I think it’s important we let our listeners know what resources are out there if you’re interested in starting an intern program, or even if you’re a person thinking that I would like to be an intern, you know, where do you go first? Clearly Apprenace is a really fast growing company that will help employers, and it sounds like you also help individuals, looking to get interns.
Yeah, and just for your audience’s benefit, it’s Apprenace, A-P-P-R-E-N-A-C-E. We combined apprentice plus ace together, because the idea is to go from being an apprentice to being an ace. Also apprentice.com was not available. Apprenace.com was. So that just…it may sound like I’m really saying apprentice, but I’m really saying Apprenace. Not…I’m not just being lazy, leaving out the T. It’s gone.
Thanks for that clarification. Very important. And JoDee, where else would you send people?
I would say to colleges, universities would be a great place to start, too. Typically their career services department have worked with lots of different kinds of companies in helping them find interns, and possibly even developed somewhat of an internship program or even just other people, you know, who have worked in or who hire interns.
I totally agree. I think your network of businesses, the Chamber of Commerce, I mean, they can get you…get good leads of places to go, because I think it’s very rare to find a company who has never tried an internship. Now, obviously, some of them more successful than others, but use your network, as well.
Well, terrific. Well, Chris, we are so glad you came today. I appreciate the insights you’ve given us.
Thank you all for having me. I appreciate it.
So we’re moving to our listener email. JoDee, we received an email from Sharon in Iowa, and here’s what she said. “My employer is offering me a voluntary severance program because business is down and it would be helpful to have fewer of us on the payroll. I’m 50 years old, and I really wouldn’t mind leaving and getting a chance to try something new. My boss has given me a legal looking agreement that I have to sign in order to get a severance payment. It says I have 45 days before signing it, and then another seven days afterwards to change my mind. Also attached is a listing of the ages and the job titles of everyone else in my work group who’s eligible for this voluntary severance program. What is all this junk, and should I pay an attorney to look it over before I sign?”
Well, you know, Susan, we’ve joked in the past that I’m pretty pro-risk, and you’re a bit risk averse, so we might have different opinions on this. But typically, severance agreements are pretty standard agreements across companies. They’re…by giving you the ages and information on other people who were involved in the downsizing, your employer is following the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act to help prevent age discrimination, so not that that’s not important to you, but it is legal documentation that they’re required to give you. And it sounds like it might be a good opportunity for you, if you were thinking about doing something different and can have a severance, to move forward with it.
You know, I agree with you. And I always get a kick out of the 1990 Older Workers Benefit Protection Act, because it’s protecting all of us that are age 40 or over. I want to tell you, 40 sounds so young to me.
Yeah. But, you know, it clearly is the law that if you are to sever someone and you’re providing severance to them, if they’re over the age of 40, they’re going to be waiving their rights to take any action against you. And that’s why, by law, they have to have at least 45 days to make up their minds. And then that seven days period of revocation also exists as a component of the law, just as well as letting you know everybody else and their ages. It’s so that if you’re an older person, you think, my goodness, it looks like the preponderance of people that they’re letting go happens to be people over the age of 40, it might cause you to pause before you sign. But I would say to you, Sharon, listening to your story, you’re 50, you’re still very young, you’ve got a whole nother, probably, career or two left. And yet, if the dollars make sense for you, I would take the time, I would do it, and I personally probably wouldn’t go to an attorney. Always your call, but usually it’s pretty standard. But I would read it carefully before I signed, and if there’s anything in there that made you uncomfortable, then certainly go to a lawyer. All right, good. Well, our last section is in the news, and I don’t know if you noticed, but Indeed recently did a survey of 4,000 people who had moved within the last year, and interestingly, the number one reason that people moved, at least in the last year, 45% of them said they moved because of a job, they were going to a job. The second most common reason for a move is just personal reasons, and that was that 24% But surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, those who turned down job moves, they did it because they said they had personal reasons that they couldn’t move. Usually family, loved ones, Ill relatives, things like that. Of those 45% who actually moved for the job, 60% of them went to a stronger…what they felt would be a stronger job market. And so it was interesting, the study by Indeed went on to say, so where are these places in the U.S. where the stronger job market exists. Well, it probably won’t surprise anyone that the most favorable labor markets, at least by these people was cited, were all still in the Sunbelt states of California, Florida, and Texas.
Right. It’s interesting, I’m thinking about moving, and honestly, I personally was relocated by a company years ago. But someone, a client, asked me the other day how much they needed to offer a candidate for a relocation bonus. And years ago, 10, 15, 20 years ago, that was a big deal, that companies paid a lot of money to relocate people, which you just don’t see that much anymore. Now, for companies who are really fighting the labor market and trying to find people with their skills, I’m sure they have a different story. But I think in the recession years, 2007 even up through 2012, when the supply was much greater than the demand, I saw relocation bonuses, in many cases, go to zero or just paying actual moving trucks.
And, you know, similarly, it used to be that large corporations would sometimes buy people’s houses that they didn’t sell within a period.
During that recession, I saw that stop almost…
At least every company I was involved with.
And it hasn’t come back. So people…usually companies aren’t buying houses anymore. Right. Well, hey, we’ve run out of time, JoDee. As much fun as it’s been today, we’re going to need to bring it to a close. To our listeners out there, please tune in next time. Really appreciate you joining us. If you’ve missed any of our podcasts, you can catch all the episodes for free at iTunes or Podbean and Google Play by searching on the word “JoyPowered.” If you have any questions on any HR topic, you could always call us at 317-688-1613 and leave a voicemail, or give feedback on our podcast via our JoyPowered® Facebook account or on Twitter @JoyPowered. We welcome listener questions and comments.
And make it a great day.