There is a powerful, one-word answer to the significant talent challenges faced by small and mid-sized business: internships. There are few more proven ways to grow and retain talent — bespoke talent, in many cases — for smaller businesses.
Not surprisingly, 80 percent of interns who are offered full-time positions accept. Retention rates for employees who have interned with a company are 32 percent higher than non-interns after one year, and almost 10 percent higher after five years of employment.
Long thought of as primarily used in the corporate world, the value of internships for smaller businesses was seen in action this summer in Cleveland — sometimes, on an electric bike.
Henry Remington is chief engineer at Cleveland-based LAND Energy, an electric bicycle and motorcycle company, which currently has 24 full-time employees. This summer, he employed three interns who worked on highly skilled projects, including prototyping, 3D modeling, programming and electrical work.
Students are attracted to internships at smaller companies, he says, because they can wear many hats. Interns, in the short term, provide support that can be critical in a start-up environment. Longer term, internships create critical talent pipelines. Working an internship offers the intern a good look at a company, and the company gets a good look at the intern’s potential as a worker. In today’s competitive talent marketplace, connections like this are crucial.
Internships can be especially beneficial to smaller companies in highly specified fields. Kul Bhasin, CEO and founder of Rocky River-based aerospace company Comsat Architects, says he regularly hires interns who are trained to suit the company’s unique talent needs. Part of Bhasin’s goal has been to build his company with local talent. He’s hired seven former interns since Comsat’s founding.
But internships are not just about value creation for small and mid-sized companies. Investing in interns is also an investment in the community. This year, Greater Cleveland Partnership partnered with others to launch Summer in the Land, a program that helped interns make connections to the city and one another. The program brought together more than 1,000 interns — studying at more than 140 colleges — from 302 employers.
One LAND intern says his internship has opened his eyes to engineering opportunities. Having worked at both a small business and for a large name brand, he says he would choose to stay with a small business if offered a choice — there is more freedom and opportunity.
Internships are crucially important for college students, as they provide at least two very important outcomes, explains Elad Granot, dean of Boler College of Business at John Carroll University, where internships are mandatory. Statistically speaking, internships lead to job offers. They also sometimes allow students to discern what they do not want to do again — it’s better for students, and businesses, to figure that out in college, rather than in a person’s first job.
But how do smaller companies, which may not have the HR departments or financial resources of large corporations, compete for intern talent? Career fairs, college career offices and the student careers site Handshake, which has offices at more than 1,400 higher-ed institutions, are great places to start. Leaning into LinkedIn, which has a “Pathways & Programs” microsite aimed at college-aged job seekers, can be beneficial in attracting motivated next-gen talent, as can calling upon your current employees to activate their professional networks — as well as alumni networks from their own college days. ●
Baiju R. Shah President & CEO Greater Cleveland Partnership