Question: Interns look to learn from the companies they join. But what can the companies learn from the interns?
Answer: Whether your internship project is a success or a failure, you can be sure of one thing: it will clarify whether your organisation (or your part of it) is a “giving” or a “taking” one. This is because in almost all internship projects, there will be more “give” by the employer than “take”. And that is essentially because the company is able to give a lot more – it has all the experience and knowledge.
Conversely, the intern is not easily able to give because she does not have that experience and knowledge yet.
The concepts of giving and taking are essential in understanding an internship. Both the manager and the intern need to understand them, and keep conscious of them during the internship.
Of course the employer could just see the intern as cheap labour – putting him in front of a screen to do data capture every day, and not introducing him to anyone. When the intern leaves, neither the company nor the intern will have gained anything significant.
Giving to interns may not initially be easy. Some interns arrive with a good attitude to work. But in my experience, graduate interns particularly often have an expectation that the world is there to give them something – that they are entitled to this work and to a job. It apparently does not cross their mind that they might need to make a contribution.
If the intern reacts in this kind of taking way, his manager’s job is to not respond in kind but rather to give appropriately in response. That appropriate response is likely to include a reprimand, setting a standard, and performance-managing the intern.
When a manager reacts to a taking intern by taking (by, for instance, telling the intern to “just get on with it – I’m not going to take time to explain to you why this works this way” or by giving the intern a menial job because she can’t be bothered to adhere to the planned internship), then the internships will fail.
Not everyone responds to giving by giving. But invariably people (including interns) respond to taking by taking.
A company may have one or a combination of motives for investing in an internship programme: it may see it as a way of recruiting good, young people (that is, particularly people who give more than they take) using (perhaps) a government-subsidised trial period; or it may want to represent its business in a marketing way; or it may see this as a give-back to society by preparing the intern for the world of work. All of these are valid reasons for participating in an internship programme.