Interns useful for summer and beyond

It’s back-to-school time for students of all ages, including those fresh-faced summer interns who have been doing research, building models and testing code in information technology departments across the country.

And even though those summer helpers may have been working on complex projects, their departures shouldn’t cause too many headaches for already overtaxed IT staffers, company officials said. That’s because of the way internships are now viewed: as a recruiting tool instead of as cheap, entry-level labour.

“Most companies are now using internships to plant seeds for the future, instead of as grunt workers,” said John Putzier, president of FirStep Inc., a Prospect, Penn.-based human-resources consultancy. Only the few firms that don’t see the long-term value of interns will feel a big hit when their “slave labour” returns to school, Putzier said.

When companies view interns as potential recruits, they often have them work on interesting three-month projects that don’t need full-time staff to take over when the interns leave.

“We try to give our interns meaningful work that has a beginning and an end. That way, they get a sense of accomplishment about what they’ve done here,” said Eva Fujan, vice-president of technical recruiting at Inacom Corp., a large Omaha-based systems integrator.

But smaller organizations make sure they don’t get hit when school starts. “We set up our interns with one-time projects they can finish while they’re here,” said Don Harris, Charlotte, N.C.-based manager of staff development at Belk Inc., the largest privately owned department store chain in the U.S.

Even industries that haven’t traditionally paid much attention to interns are recognizing the benefits of gaining early access to college students with IT skills.

“In the past, we could have charged interns to work here,” chuckled Jeremy Eskenazi, director of workforce planning and strategy at Universal Studios Inc. in Universal City, Calif.

But, he added, “with all of our efforts in new media development, we’re now focusing on bringing in good people and then recruiting them for full-time jobs.”