Internships: a win-win for start-ups and students
It's the classic chicken-and-egg employment conundrum droves of university graduates face: employers require that they have work experience, yet no one is willing to hire them so they can get it. With today's competitive job market, how will students gain the experience required?
In order to assist, at many tertiary-level institutions, including the University of the West Indies (UWI), internships are now a requirement for graduation qualification.
But how many employers see the need for interns and are willing to train them?
The reality is that human-resource costs are often the highest on the books of companies and a spend most can't finance within the first year. Salaries account for more than a third of the cost for the average small business, and with a company less than a year old, I knew already that my funds had to be channelled into capital expenditure for my fast-growing confectionery business. I knew early in my entrepreneurial journey that I couldn't afford to hire the people I needed.
The solution I came up with was to approach my alma mater, UWI, and request two of their brightest and best final-year students to come intern at Sweetie and fill my talent gaps.
Ashleigh Barnes and Marian Rowe are two Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) students at UWI, and to me, they were God-sent.
I trust my interns. They don't file papers and answer phones. They do real work, as they would in the corporate world. And as final-year students, they are getting the transitional training required to have them function when they leave my hands. They have done everything from arrange press conferences to manage budgets to media planning to press-release writing - all the marketing functions required to launch a new business. And they have done it all with little supervision, which frees me up to focus on more strategic objectives.
I make sure that they learn outside of the communications scope as well. They see first-hand my every struggle in running a start-up, and have many times been part of my solutions.
My social-media pages and campaigns were managed entirely by Marian for months. She has taken my business into a space of immediate communication with my customers. It's a very involved but necessary job, and there's no better person to do it, and to teach me how to do it, than a university student.
Ashleigh scheduled all my launch interviews and took the initiative to schedule media exposure in diaspora markets as well. Her Rolodex now looks pretty impressive, complete with contacts at major Caribbean media outlets abroad that she can call on in the future.
The internship also provides occasional revenue for the students. Though the actual internship is unpaid, I do use the girls to staff promotions on weekends and pay them what I would a promotional team. Truth is, they know the information about the company best, and they do an excellent job of representing Sweetie externally. And I'm sure the pocket money helps.
Next to me, nobody knows my business as well as Ashleigh and Marian. I intentionally have been liberal with information about the company at every step of the way in the hope that at least one of the two will transition into a permanent role at Sweetie one day.
In a challenging business environment where the bottom line is crucial to business survival, we have to get creative in meeting our business requirements. Interns need experience and start-ups need staff. The alignment is a natural one.
I encourage other start-up owners to give young people a chance and see the value in an internship - for you both. Good interns are capable additions to your team. As a business owner, you need those free extra pairs of hands, and the interns need your direction and the learning experiences.
As my angels graduate and step into the next phase of their journeys, I thank them for taking me this far and am so proud of how far they have come.
Want to hire them? Email me.