As family businesses move from one generation to the next, a key challenge is ensuring that younger family members — future owners and possibly leaders of the company — feel a connection with the business. Many businesses address this by offering internships for high school or college students in the family. However, a family business poses certain unique challenges — will the internship be paid? What are the expectations? How are candidates selected? If you are thinking of beginning an internship program at your company here are some things to consider:
Begin the planning process by setting a goal for the internship program. What aim do you hope to achieve by inviting young family members to join the company as interns? Setting a specific goal — such as giving the next generation an understanding of the business — will make it easier to address questions about who is eligible for the internships and what is expected of the company.
Payment & Criteria
Before launching the program, establish policies on whether interns will be paid, how many opportunities are available and how many years a family members may serve as an intern. Some companies pay interns and others offer unpaid internships, usually for college credit. It is best to establish this early.
Make it clear to prospective interns that they are expected to go through a formal application process and, if accepted, to take the job seriously. This helps in establishing expectations up front. Interns MUST take their application for an internship as seriously as they would an application for permanent employment outside the family business. The application process should include deadlines, required paperwork, an interview or other similar requirements.
Explain to parents of prospective interns that their son or daughter isn’t guaranteed an internship position just because they are related and that children are expected to complete the application process without parental involvement. Parents, who are oftentimes owners or other leaders, may feel that their children are entitled to a job. Make it clear that entitlement is not part of your business.
Make sure you teach interns the importance of confidentiality and separation of family and business issues. This is a good lesson for them to learn early. It can be very toxic for other employees to witness a family member slacking their duties or running to tell Mom or Dad who isn’t doing a good job. Let your interns know that they are under a spotlight and must act professionally.
Make It Fun
Include social events and other bonding experiences as part of the internship experience. There are benefits to being part of a family business and interns should have an opportunity to experience those as well.
Review your internship program every year, with an eye toward how it can be improved. Exit interviews with the interns can provide valuable feedback. There is always room for improvement even in a well-established internship program.
The benefits of a family internship program can be great for young family members as well as for the business. The students gain work experience that will prove valuable even if they don’t ultimately work for the family firm. The company benefits from family members’ deeper understanding of the business. In some cases internships spark the interest of talented young family members who develop into key employees. However, setting up a successful internship program requires careful planning in order to realize these benefits. If you need help setting up a program that will work for your company than the consultants at REGENERATION are here to assist you.
(credit: family business magazine 2015)