How much value can interns bring to an SME?

Can over-relying on the short-term internship end up doing an SME more harm than good?

How much value can interns bring to an SME?

The practice of running an internship has attracted a good deal of controversy in recent times. Some industries have taken the technique so thoroughly to their hearts that it is almost impossible to get a job without doing your time trawling round the internship programmes. And when these are unpaid they can come at as high a price for the employer as for the intern. According to government guidelines, those refusing to pay interns a wage are in fact breaking the law, with HMRC last year investigating some 200 enterprises advertising for interns to ensure they were paying minimum wage.

Even setting aside the issue of pay, however, more deep-rooted questions about internships remain. Providing a recent graduate much needed experience is certainly a valuable endeavour and taking someone on at an entry level will give a start-up a chance to trial out talent without breaking the bank by making a pricey hire. But can taking someone on for a couple of months really be a worthwhile investment for a small business, particularly when there’s every chance that person will walk out of the door at the end of their internship?

Inevitably, there will always be a case for taking on interns as part of a diverse talent pool but is there a risk that by over-relying on short-term internships small businesses could be hampering their long-term growth? We ask: are internships doing SMEs any good?


“Short-term internships do more harm than good”Cary Curtis, founder and managing director, Give A Grad A Go

The typical salary that a university leaver expects to take on a month-by-month basis is relatively small. If you take it out of an annual amount and put it into a monthly salary, it’s not a massive amount of money to a business. The most expensive thing to a business or a business owner is their time and they’ll be spending it if they’re going to be training up someone new, who’s inexperienced. There’s a revolving door for internships, particularly the unpaid ones. If there’s going to be people coming and going the entire time, you’re going through that training process on a repeat basis. So it does do more harm than good.

If you have someone who’s happy, settled and can see themselves staying in a position for a long time, they’re not going to be looking at other jobs – they’re going to be concentrating on what they’ve been brought in to do. You can’t hold it against those guys if an opportunity comes along with a salary where they can get their lives a bit more sorted – fair play to them. And, likewise, for a relatively small amount of money on a weekly or monthly basis, they can have that security.


“Internships are of benefit to both parties”, Anthony Sherick, director, Technojobs

What many business owners don’t realise is that there are plenty of benefits for their company in hiring graduates as interns. Interns are keen to learn and take on board any information that you share with them, making the experience worthwhile for both parties. 

Taking on an intern allows you to see how much potential, and indeed genuine interest, a candidate has in the sector your company works in. Furthermore, you’re able to see how they will fit into your company as a permanent employee, as what looks good on paper doesn’t always translate in practise to a suitable candidate. Offering someone a permanent role in your firm is an important decision, so knowing that they have already proved their work ethic and skills is hugely significant. Interns can also add a degree of variety, creativity and vision that some companies might lack if new employees are never added into the mix. A ‘but we’ve always done it this way’ attitude can also be encouragingly contested by an intern, who can provide an outsider’s perspective on your company and can bring fresh ideas.

Internships really can be of benefit to both parties but only if an intern is valued and allowed true insight into your company and industry; challenge them and watch them rise to the occasion. An intern today may prove to be a valuable employee tomorrow. 

Josh Russell
Josh Russell

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