Interns are a great way to test-drive talent, increase productivity, and build perspective.
Offering an internship program is also a wonderful way to give back to the community by offering experience and new skills to the developing workforce.
Unfortunately, some companies consider interns free or cheap labor, and that’s where we run into some problems.
In this article, I describe how I built an internship program so you can take some tips. I also outline information on laws concerning internships so you can avoid legal pitfalls.
Building an Internship Program in Texas
I had the opportunity to build an internship program from the ground up for the largest UK-based international infrastructure group operating in construction, professional support services and infrastructure investments. The ironic part is, I was hired as an intern to take on the task! It was an incredible opportunity for a student, and I was lucky to stand out due to entrepreneurial experience on my resume.
Here’s what I did. First I read everything I could get my hands on. Then I set up policies and procedures for interns that aligned with the current company systems and the FLSA laws involved (I’ll get to those in a minute). I created forms for 30 and 60-day performance reviews.
After that, I conducted a job analysis. I met with directors and members of departments that were interested in having an intern. This part was important because I met some resistance. People don’t react well to change or situations with unclear expectations. By explaining my role, their role, and the intern’s role, I introduced the program in a positive light.
Based on my conversations I made a list of relevant majors, the minimum degree (Associates, Bachelor’s, Master’s), and any secondary concentrations. Next, I located colleges and universities with those programs within a 10-mile radius.
Once I had my master list, I narrowed it down to five based on which schools had an internship program in place. At that point, I reached out to the program coordinator with any questions I had while I put together job descriptions. After that, I posted the descriptions on the school internship boards and some online boards. I also sourced resumes. Then the applications started rolling in.
So here’s my advice to startups looking to have interns:
- Figure out which schools you want to target. Don’t cast a wide net, because you want to build relationships with the schools and their intern programs.
- Put together a method for performance evaluations. Not only do some schools require it, but interns really value feedback. They are showing up to learn, after all.
- Phone screening candidates is an absolute must. Some students are looking for a free ride to bulk up their resume. Some want actual experience. Phone screening differentiates the two.
Laws Concerning Texas Internship Programs
Here’s the part I know you came here to see. Employer laws!
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) mandates that interns may be unpaid if all the following are met:
- They receive experiences similar to training which would be given in an educational environment
- The experience is for the benefit of the intern
- The interns do not displace regular employees
- The company derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the interns
- Both employer and intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship
If all of those objectives are not met, the intern must be paid minimum wage and overtime. Here are other situations to look out for:
- If interns substitute for regular workers or augment the existing workforce
- If the company would have hired additional employees or required existing staff to work additional hours, but instead had an intern
In these situations, the intern is classified as an employee under the FLSA and is entitled to minimum wage and overtime. Bottom line is, internships are educational experiences for students. They are not free or low cost ways to obtain workers.