Before my first internship, I thought that regardless of where I went, all internships would be the same: neither good nor bad but just a necessary step towards getting more work experience.

After my first internship, I realized the quality of the program makes a significant difference to whether it’s a good experience or, as I unfortunately had, a somewhat lacklustre one.

So for the frazzled employers that are trying to set up their own internship program and attract young talent, what exactly do they need to do to make their interns brag to their friends about how great their company is?

Read: The right way to use summer interns

July 9 is reportedly Intern Appreciation Day (it seems to be an unofficial holiday), so it’s a good time to explore the issue given the many interns working across the country this summer. To answer the question, I spoke to two companies that have successful internship programs in place: Great-West Life Assurance Co., a company that’s among the 2016 top 100 employers in Canada for young people for its student internships; and Rogers Media Inc., whose M-School program has seen the number of applicants grow by more than 300 per cent to more than 1,000 in 2016 from 230 in 2014.

(Full Disclosure: I’m currently in the middle of my time at M-School with Benefits Canada. It’s my second internship, and my experience so far has been fun and engaging.)

How to implement an internship program

The first thing employers will need for an internship program is good management. At Rogers Media, program manager Joan Antonio runs the M-School along with executive sponsor Christine Johnston. Additionally, interns have individually assigned mentors who manage and teach them.

At Great-West Life, which hires approximately 100 to 150 interns per year, internships vary from summer positions to longer eight-month rotations for new graduates. The company partners students with employees and encourages them to share their experience and knowledge during the on-boarding process, says Michael Embury van Wyk, manager of talent sourcing.

Read: Desjardins, KPMG and Rogers among top employers for young people

Clear management and responsibility are important because, in my personal experience, interns without good supervision can be forgotten in the bustle of office deadlines and stress and end up sitting around with too little work. (Here, I’m referring to my first internship; Benefits Canada keeps me pretty busy). At the same time, interns aren’t quite the same as other employees. They may not have as much familiarity with a professional environment or know what the company expects of them, so having some personalized advice can be useful, as it was for me.

Next, and this might sound a bit paradoxical, employers should also treat their interns just like any other employee. “We wouldn’t just come and have you . . . [be] a kind of makeshift whatever you help here or help there,” says Johnston, describing the M-School program. “We wanted to put you to work here as if you were an actual employee.”

Similarly, Embury says Great-West Life gives interns work that’s “meaningful or related to their field” and tries to create an experience that would closely mirror things they’d experience as a regular employee.

Its interns also take on special projects that may require more analysis or work, which allows for “a fresh look and approach and take on a project that we may have not had time to have our employees tackle,” Embury adds.

Read: Millennial women in finance held back despite defying the stereotypes

Finally, employers should be willing to adapt and put effort into hiring their interns. Attracting top interns is the same as attracting top talent anywhere, meaning there should be reasons for students and new graduates to want to join the organization.

Johnston describes biweekly seminars where senior leaders and other departments come in to talk with the interns as one of the M-School program’s unique selling points. She also notes annual surveys allow for changes to the program according to the results. As an example, Johnston says a reporter panel that “students love” prompted a decision to expand on it in the future.

Great-West Life offers a variety of areas, including information services, business administration, group services and pharmaceutical and actuarial placements, that provide a range of options for interested students, says Embury. Notably, it also provides interns with paid time to study for exams as well as the potential for continued placements every summer.

“As an employer of choice, we need to demonstrate our commitment to individual development and growth,” says Embury. “We believe that providing our employees opportunities for learning and growth is important and we extend this to our interns as well.”

So why should employers implement an internship program? In my view, the benefits of good internships outweigh the hassle and cost of getting them right.

Rogers Media has seen several M-School alumni go on to success, says Antonio, who notes the company has hired eight M-School interns as full-time employees.

Read: How to support Generation Z employees

Meanwhile, Great-West Life sees its program as “a pipeline of new talent [which is] able to infuse the organization with innovative thought and new employees,” says Embury. He estimates 50 per cent of interns stay on as full-time employees and says students can even work part-time with the organization while continuing to attend school.

So what’s the takeaway from all of this, aside from the fact that I may have a bit of a bias when it comes to internships? Having a good internship program isn’t easy, but in the words of Henry Ford:”If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”

Michael Chen is an M-School intern working with Benefits Canada for the summer. M-School is a program that provides interns with experience working for Rogers’ publishing brands. The program complies with all applicable rules and regulations governing internships.

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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