Career success | Make the most of student workers

Employees in a meeting

The best internships bring together an organization and individual with similar needs and values, but the ones that aren’t valuable often occur when there’s a mismatch between the skills and goals of the intern and the needs and objectives of the company.

So how do you guarantee a good match? Going through a school’s formal process can help ensure you get the best candidates and the best match. Programs such as the one at Hari B. Varshney Business Career Centre at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business connect high performing students with employers and helps prepare them for the workplace.

The Sauder program has two sides to it: the Business Co-op Program for BCom undergrads, and the MBA Internship Program which matches MBA students from Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School to more advanced positions.

“We feel corporations have a responsibility to help young people find short term work opportunities so they can explore more about what role, company or industry might be better for them,” said Denise Baker, the Assistant Dean at UBC’s Business Career Centre. “The benefit for employers to do short term hiring is that they can meet someone and test them for a few months and then make a decision about whether they want to hire them permanently. They’re getting a more seasoned, test-run employee.”

The Co-op Program alternates 4 or 8 month paid work terms with academic terms, giving participating BCom students a full year of work experience by the end of their degree. UBC MBA students, who typically have five years work experience already, take part in an 8-14 week summer internship, focusing on short-term projects that tackle strategic or operational issues.

To prepare candidates for internships and co-ops, the career centre puts students through a series of workshops and training to make sure they’re ready for the working world, and works with employers to assess students’ skills through site visits and feedback so they can work to improve where needed.

That careful training and matching pays off for the businesses involved.

“The thing we really notice about the Sauder school is that the students have a keen awareness of what the company is looking for and what they need to succeed in that role,” Hootsuite VP of HR Ambrosia Humphrey said. “I find their students to be quick learners and to be able to really hone on what role they would play in the organization.”

Hootsuite has grown from 20 employees to 300 in the space of four years, and has found building relationships with schools gives the company the edge to find great employees by keeping the company in touch with what skills students are developing, and making sure they get the right interns in the first place. They have hired on 20-30% of their MBA interns in permanent positions, a rate Humphrey said was likely to increase as the company grew.

The Sauder interns also do a lot of real work with their time, according to A&W restaurant re-image and modernization manager Andy Yeh who works closely with marketing co-op interns.

“There is a stereotype that interns don’t do real work – they do photocopying or filing, but that’s definitely not true with my co-op experience. We definitely treat our interns and students as employees and give them real, meaningful work because that ultimately motivates them and puts them in a position where they need to make critical decisions,” said Yeh, who was a co-op intern at A&W while studying at UBC. “We have a lot of real work that needs to be done here and the co-op program is a fantastic resource pool for enthusiastic and talented young professionals.”

This article was first published on April 9, 2013 on HRM Online.