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An internship can be a win/win opportunity.

By: Brad Slaney, CPA

Most of us know why college students like to secure a couple of internships before they earn their degree. Itís a chance to explore work in an occupation that interests them. Itís also an opportunity to start making connections in your chosen field and may help fulfill a graduation or community-service requirement. If itís a paid internship, the earnings can help pay expenses for the coming semester.

For businesses, especially small and mid-sized ones, the value of offering internships isnít always quite as clear as it is for the students who seek them.

A well-structured internship program, however, can be a genuine win-win, benefiting both employer and student. Such a program can provide a year-round source of highly motivated pre-professionals capable of assisting with special events and short-term projects who may also bring fresh ideas and new perspectives to your organization.

The greatest benefit of all could be the power of an internship program in creating a pipeline for new employees that will help your business grow and prosper for years into the future. Turnover is a major concern for many businesses Ė the nationwide turnover rate in 2015 was 16.7 percent, and in some industries, such as hospitality, it is about 25 percent.

Good hiring practices can help reduce your turnover rate, and the National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that companies are hiring more than 50 percent of their interns as permanent employees.

In our firm, we have had very positive experiences with interns. Whether theyíre with us for the summer or part-time during the school year, they perform meaningful work while getting to learn more about various aspects of the accounting business. Most importantly, we learn more about a candidateís potential and his or her fit with our company by observing them during an internship than we ever could through a series of job interviews. And, from the candidateís perspective, getting inside a business for two or three months is an ideal way to determine whether they would like to continue with the company on a permanent basis.

To set up and run an internship program, here are some key steps an employer should take:

Create a system for overseeing interns. You should have a manager who oversees the overall program and employees who will be supervising their day-to-day work and as mentors.

Treat interns as regular employees. Give them an orientation when they arrive, explain the roles of different departments, and make sure they follow your companyís standards Ė dress code, reporting on time, greeting customers and clients, and so forth.

But build in some flexibility. Rotate the intern into different departments or different types of projects so they get broad exposure to your business. Allow for some adjustments to their hours as well. If itís during the school year, they will have scheduled classes. If itís an unpaid internship, they might have a paying job elsewhere too.

Follow rules and regulations. Colleges may have reporting requirements for both interns and employers. Federal laws set requirements for unpaid internships. (One of those rules is that the interns cannot displace regular employees.) Also, make sure interns, their parents and colleges are aware of all relevant insurance considerations. In most cases, the business does not provide insurance coverage for the intern. However, paid interns should be covered by workersí compensation for on-the-job injuries.

With good planning, an internship program can strengthen the overall operation of your business, provide support for special projects, and create a pipeline for future employees. By making interns part of your team, your business can also develop a reputation as a good citizen in your community.