While interning in the legal, finance, science and creative industries is commonplace, there have been fewer opportunities available to students studying human resource management.
PeopleCorp’s director Tim Henry and his team decided to help bridge that gap by facilitating an internship program.
The company partnered with the University of New South Wales to select high-performing students, creating a pool of young and enthusiastic talent who could be called upon when companies needed an extra pair of hands in the HR team.
“There was, and still is, a huge amount of interest from clients,” says Henry. “We’ve been able to meet supply and demand in that when a client tells us they have a piece of work an intern can help out on, we are able to introduce them to three or four candidates who they can meet and interview and we go from there.”
Interns can benefit a business
PeopleCorp’s strategy contradicts the commonly held view that internships are beneficial only to the students who undertake them.
“Businesses are able to get somebody who knows the profession and topic well, even if it is in theory only, as opposed to a temp,” says Henry. “And invariably that person is a lot better value than a temp would be.”
A cost effective solution
When chemical and pharmaceutical company Bayer moved to a more centralised HR structure two years ago, the HR team realised there were some projects that would, at times, be under-resourced.
Head of HR Australia and New Zealand Isadore Payne says taking on interns is a cost-effective way to bulk up staff during busy periods.
“But it’s also a way to help our young, upcoming stars get into the market because it’s quite difficult to break into the industry,” says Payne.
Of course, students get substantial benefits from interning, too. Practical experience and a good reference are what help a graduate stand out among a sea of applications, says Henry.
“What we’ve suggested to clients is that the work of human resource management interns be divided into three parts,” Henry says. “A third being quite project based, a third is more generic HR admin, and then another third is listening, learning, sitting in on meetings and understanding how an HR function works.”
To ensure interns are offered meaningful work at Bayer, Payne pairs them with a “buddy” and an HR manager they report to, and clearly outlines the project and what is expected throughout the internship.
“We want to define outputs. And it’s wonderful to see how they rise to the challenge and blow your mind sometimes because they are skilled and talented and eager to deliver,” says Payne.
Payment can be an area of contention
Under the Fair Work Act 2009, unless it is a “vocational placement” a person is entitled to the minimum wage and other entitlements outlined in the National Employment Standards.
Professor Bamber warns that in some cases interns can be exploited by opportunistic companies. “Internships are very valuable at their best. At their worst they’re terrible,” he says.
“I would like to see more universities and other educational institutions working closely with employers to try and set up valuable and structured internships for students. This is going to help improve our profession as well as help students on their way.”
Before she changed career course to study human resource management, Melissa Platten had undertaken internships in the fashion industry. These were unpaid, and consisted to some extent of fetching coffee for employees and answering their phones.
Despite those earlier experiences, Platten wanted the opportunity to intern in the HR industry to increase her experience and build her CV.