How to Build a Work-Based Experience Internship Program…and Why You Should

Build Your Work-Based Experience Program

In 2020, Pipeline AZ created the Education Leadership Group (ELG) to survey more than 40 educators, administrators and industry leaders throughout Arizona about their thoughts on how to make Arizona the national leader in career development and training. In our 2021 “Dear Arizona: A Call from Educators” report, we uncovered three key trends regarding workforce development in Arizona:

  1. A need for equitable access to career exploration
  2. A need for a singular, shared technology infrastructure
  3. A need for a feedback loop between industry and educators

Many employers lack internship or work-based experience (WBE) programs because they don’t understand how valuable these programs can be or know where to start when building a work-based experience program.

Reasons for WBEs & Why to Create Internships

First, let’s look at the benefits of building WBEs and creating internships in Arizona workplaces. From potential financial benefits, to innovation and increased productivity, interns, apprentices and other WBE candidates offer the following advantages for your business.

1. Build a pipeline of talent.

Employee turnover is expensive. According to Gallup, a conservative estimate of the costs for replacing an individual employee is up to 2x the employee’s annual salary. Consider factors like recruiting, interviewing, onboarding and training. That’s a lot of time and money spent when hiring new employees.

When you have an internship or WBE experience program, you can cut down on recruiting and training costs when you hire people who already have experience at your company and who have been vetted as quality candidates during the WBE. Also, WBE programs serve as a recruiting vehicle when participants refer others to your business.

2. Increase innovation.

Interns and WBE participants bring fresh perspectives to a business. With a WBE program, you ensure with every program cycle, you’re infusing your company with new creativity and talent that can invigorate operations.

Also, as WBE programs come to an end, you can gain valuable feedback from participants about what they thought of the experience and how you can improve your business for your full-time staff and future job candidates.

3.  Empower your staff to be mentors and trainers.

Any full-time employee can hone their leadership skills in a WBE program, even (and especially) your junior-most staff. WBE programs give your employees an opportunity to lead and teach. Those skills can make them better future managers and leaders for your business.  

4. Add strength to your workforce.

Interns may not have a lot of professional experience in your industry, but they often possess skills that can meaningfully contribute to your products or services. You can bolster your business production by empowering WBE participants to work on projects that help shape your business. By delegating appropriate tasks to WBE participants, you can free up full-time employees to improve their performance, as well.

5. Form valuable partnerships with educators and community organizations.

Businesses with WBE programs can create that needed feedback loop with educators. Businesses can help educators understand what kinds of skills are needed for today’s workforce.

Another benefit is that when businesses build relationships with education professionals, those educators, career counselors and administrators can identify promising talent and make better recommendations to businesses. Educators become a valuable recruiting partner that can save businesses time and money in searching for the best talent.

Businesses that implement WBE programs may find their most talented, loyal and long-term employees within the intern and WBE candidate pool. Plus, businesses may improve their reputations in the community and bolster their sentiment by providing more people with the opportunity to be a part of their workforce.

Now that you’ve seen the benefits of a WBE for your business, learn how to create one that’s effective and legally compliant.

How to Create an Internship or WBE Program at Your Business

First thing’s first: you’ll want to ensure your WBE program is legal. You can’t just bring in people to work at your office or place of business for free and justify that with an “intern” label.

Work with your legal team to review the U.S. Department of Labor’s Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act. This fact sheet explains under what circumstances a business is able to employ unpaid interns and students.

Even if your business is able to create an unpaid intern program, consider the benefits of offering a paid internship or WBE.

  1. You may be able to get similar-quality work out of an intern that you would pay more for a full-time employee to complete.
  2. You make your internship/WBE more competitive, which may increase your likelihood of attracting top talent and of educators promoting your business among students looking for WBE opportunities. You may also improve your reputation as a WBE provider, which could increase referrals in the community to your program.
  3. You offer more value to interns and WBE participants, which may make them more likely to pursue and accept a full-time position with you in the future.

If you’re unable to offer a paid opportunity at this time, you can still provide internship/WBE value by offering a purposeful and relevant experience. As we detailed for WBE seekers in “How to Find a Great Work-Based Experience,” WBE candidates are looking for work that provides worthwhile industry experience.

You can add value to your program by giving interns and WBE participants the opportunity to work on daily tasks and long-term projects that contribute to your organization and that they’d be proud to feature on a resume. Learning, development, training and mentoring (plus school credit, if applicable) also provide value in WBEs.

Structure Your WBE Program

Think about what your goals are with your WBE and what kind of help you’re looking for from interns/WBE participants. You might have a specific department that is lean that could use some extra talent. Or, you might want to give employees across departments the ability to hone their mentorship and training skills by working with interns.

Talk with your staff about your plans to start a WBE program and ask for their input about where interns/WBE participants could best contribute. Decide on your ideal schedule for interns so you can feature that in the internship description.

Make sure you have room for a WBE workspace. This may require coordinating with your IT department to create new log-ins or workstations for the WBE team.

Decide on the employees who will manage the interns. Intern management responsibility may fall under one person or a team of people.

Before WBE participants begin, create a weekly and monthly schedule outlining the tasks and projects they’ll be working on. You may want to designate a WBE coordinator to own the program, who will ensure participants are getting enough work and are getting the support they need from supervisors.

You’ll also want to plan WBE participant check-in interviews so you can gauge how the program is going and what engagement levels are like. Also, create an exit interview process so you can capture feedback and foster a long-term connection with each WBE participant.

You may want to create a WBE handbook based on your full-time employee handbook that details your company’s mission and culture and what the participant can expect from the WBE experience. That helps set up clear expectations, shares what your company is like and makes the WBE participant feel like a part of the team.

Partner with Educators & Community Organizations to Recruit WBE Participants

With an idea of what your WBE program will look like, you can now begin advertising your WBE. Start with Pipeline AZ. You can list your WBE with us and reach qualified talent, including students and professionals via our network of dozens of schools and professional partners.

You can also connect with local educators that work with the age of students you’re interested in having in your business WBE program. That might include middle or high school students, community college students and university students. If you’re looking for adult talent, connect with local business networking groups to share your opportunity. 

Plan to start your intern/WBE participant recruiting process at least several months before your ideal program start date. That way, you can source the most competitive candidates and have time to interview them. If they’re doing an internship for school credit, ask the intern what’s expected of you so you can provide them with the credentials they need for school.

As you interview WBE candidates, ask them what they’re looking for from the program. You can try to help them reach those goals if they intern with you. You can also use their feedback to evolve your WBE program.

Want to Create a WBE Program? Contact Pipeline AZ

Pipeline AZ is committed to improving career exploration and skills development in Arizona. That means providing students, young adults and career changers with learning and development opportunities through WBEs to gain the career knowledge they need to succeed.

For whatever type of WBE you want to offer, to whatever type of individual, Pipeline AZ can help you create an effective program. Reach out for information.

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