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Internships: An innovative employee retention strategy for the post-COVID work world

Written by Meghana Machiraju on March 22, 2022
3 min read

In 2018, US companies had an average voluntary turnover rate of 12%. In 2021, this number more than doubled to 25%. Nearly 3.48 million American workers quit their jobs in April 2021 alone, which was almost double the number of those who left a year earlier in 2020. What can you as a talent leader do to create more beneficial and fulfilling work environments that are necessary for employees to thrive in, post-COVID? Employers have come to realize that effective retention strategies need to go further than superficial perks that make their companies look good. The extent to which a company puts its employees first, invests in their personal and professional goals, and aids in their success is central.

Internship programs have remained a tried and tested tactic to boost the recruitment and retention of early career talent. A 2021 LinkedIn Learning Report showed that 94% of surveyed employees would stay longer if their company simply invested in their learning. Including internship programs as part of your employee retention strategy could help develop talent and build durable professional relationships.

What makes an internship program a solid employee retention strategy?

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, full-time employees hired following internships are up to 20% more likely to stick with their hiring organization when compared to non-intern hires. The numbers are strongest in Year 1 and continue to show double-digit retention impact in Year 5. These numbers make it clear that the long-term effects and ROI of an internship program could bolster retention rates!

The development of future employees through internships is a low-risk high-reward strategy for retention:

  • From their early stages, internships are opportunities to proactively combine personal and organizational missions, helping managers understand their interns’ deepest motivations. Studies shared by Health Careers show that 81% of the surveyed workers do not feel support from their company in their personal lives. Discovering who the intern is as a person and involving their personal values in their roles can create long-term benefits such as overall satisfaction, leading to higher chances of retention.
  • Internships are also a trial period and an opportunity to see an applicant in action beyond how they presented themselves in an interview. As an employer, encourage interns to consider whether the company is a good fit for them as well. Again, employee retention involves a proactive approach and transparency in goals and values. 
  • Interns with mentors in a company can improve or create an interdependent and collaborative work environment. By recruiting current employees into mentorship positions, internal engagement and retention chances increase by 50% and collaborative relationships by 37%. Thus, internship and mentorship gains have the ability to reach all corners of an organization to increase overall employee retention.
  • Looking at it financially, investing in interns geared towards sustainable employment, saves resources. On average, an employer spends 33% of an employee’s yearly salary on their leave and replacement. Save valuable time, energy, and money with initiatives like training and hiring interns. 

Innovative internship programs post-COVID: what does that look like?

Personalize internship experiences: Gearing internships toward sustainable employment involves flexibility. Present interns with several routes to fulfill their responsibilities or come up with a personalized strategy together.

Leverage flexible work models: Between Fall 2020 and Fall 2021, RippleMatch surveyed over 4000 interns to learn about their internship experiences. The results showed that 80-84% students said they were interested in fully remote opportunities. Only a small percentage said they would only be interested in in-person internships/ work environments. Hence, it is important to offer remote, in-person, or hybrid work models to promote accessibility and mobility. 

While 77% of full-time employees experience burnout at work, establishing preferred work models early on and frequent assessment can prevent fatigue and desire to quit. 

Establish a strong relationship with interns: Spend one-on-one time with interns to understand what it is they want to learn and achieve. Make sure that the intern connects with the company’s mission and how it relates to their personal mission. Have the intern write out a mission statement that both manager and intern can refer to and assess often.

Empower interns to guide their own learning: Empowering interns to set themselves up for success means that they fulfill their own established goals and guide themselves. Managers can assist interns by providing resources and advice, but interns’ goals remain their own. That way, interns are charged with internal responsibility and autonomy while managers remain supportive figures, avoiding overworking themselves. Instead of merely external rewards, this has the ability to fulfill a deep sense of personal achievement for everyone involved.

If you’d like more information on how internship programs can fuel your retention strategy, we’d love to help you. Contact us for more information or connect with us on LinkedIn.

About Symba: 

Symba is an all-in-one platform that helps organizations streamline the management of their internship programs. On Symba, teams can easily onboard program participants, provide resources, manage projects, design consistent feedback loops, and build community and engagement. By consolidating program management tools, customers have reported spending up to 80% less time on onboarding and 35% less time on the overall management of participants. In addition, Symba collects key success metrics and builds dashboards to track the long-term impact of workforce development programs. 90% of organizations using Symba have been able to increase program satisfaction, and customers have reported an average of 20% increase in intern to full-time hire conversion rates.

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Meghana Machiraju

Meghana Machiraju is a B2B content marketing professional at Symba. Previously, Meghana worked as a Content Marketing Lead for a SaaS healthcare startup. She holds a Masters in Marketing from Schulich School of Business, Canada, and an MBA in Advertising from Symbiosis International University, India. Outside of work, you will find her traveling or looking for the next vegetarian restaurant to go to!

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