A quality internship program will enable you to attract bright and ambitious young people and identify those you want to keep for the long term without making a large investment.
Agencies of all sizes struggle to find and screen job candidates with strong potential, according to the 2020 Agency Universe Study. Independent agencies can break this disappointing cycle through the strategic use of interns—and as schools and colleges break up for the summer, it is the perfect time to hire one.
A quality internship program will enable you to attract bright and ambitious young people and identify those you want to keep for the long term without making a large investment. If you don't already have one in place, here are five steps to creating your agency's internship program:
1) Determine your needs. The first step in considering an internship is to identify the needs of the agency. What the agency wants to gain from such a resource will largely dictate what type of program is most suitable. For instance, if the primary goal is to secure a steady flow of potential permanent candidates, and the agency has the management time to provide adequate mentoring, an internship that is fully developed and structured at a college or university might be appropriate to fully leverage the relationship between the agency and the institution.
On the other hand, if the agency is simply in need of temporary help for project-oriented tasks or lacks sufficient management time to administer a formal program, a college placement service or informal relationship with an academic department might be enough.
2) Decide if you will pay your intern. Internships come in many forms. They can be part of the academic institution's curriculum, an individual student's learning plan or simply an individual's desire to explore career opportunities and earn some money while in school.
They may or may not carry academic credit. Internships for credit can be expected to come with a greater degree of structure and accountability on the part of the student, institution and employer. While internships can be paid or unpaid, in most cases students do expect to get paid as part of the program, especially if it is not for credit. This will likely attract a better-quality candidate pool and enhance dedication to the internship experience.
3) Consider legal implications. Major areas of concern for employers are compensation laws, workers compensation, unemployment insurance, and employment practice laws and liability. Whether paid or unpaid, the intern should be covered by workers comp. Many institutions will require proof of coverage. For unpaid interns, it would be advisable to add a voluntary workers compensation endorsement. Interns are not eligible for unemployment benefits after the internship is over.
In most cases, the institution will require the employer to assume liability for interns. The student may also be accorded additional institutional protections and processes, especially for issues of liability, confidentiality and harassment. Generally, the same U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission standards that apply to full-time employees will apply to interns.
4) Get the word out. Draft a job description that includes job duties, as well as qualifications desired, such as a specific major, computer skills or class level. The job description should also include a description of the application procedure, the pay if applicable, duration of the internship and citizenship requirements.
Some colleges have insurance departments or business schools. At others, agencies will have to tap into other academic disciplines to find qualified candidates. A listing of Invest™ high school teacher contacts is available from Invest's national staff.
Some fields of study with relevance to agency operations include general business, management, marketing, accounting, finance, public relations, computer science and communications. Students from these disciplines often have not decided on a professional career and, after some exposure, may find the insurance industry attractive. The availability of these non-insurance disciplines makes an added case for using interns for project-oriented tasks such as marketing initiatives or technology tasks.
The next step is to contact institutions in the area about the availability of internship programs. Institutional offerings run the gamut from simple placement services to highly structured, formal programs.
5) Create a structure for your intern. To maximize the mutual benefit of the work experience, assign a mentor to the intern, preferably a management-level person who is willing to commit the necessary amount of time. This should be someone who likes to teach and is familiar with all aspects of agency operations. A proper orientation should be conducted at the outset and followed up with periodic evaluations, both of the intern and by the intern, for continuous improvement.
For more information on building a program, Invest has a wealth of free resources that will walk you through the important elements of internships, including issues of compensation, credit, and legal implications and can provide you with a framework for developing your own intern program.
Marco Albergo is Invest communications coordinator.