Bringing on a summer intern can add a depth of age diversity to your staff. (Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash)
Bringing on a summer intern can add a depth of age diversity to your staff. (Credit: Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash)

Walk down Main Street and you can’t help but notice “Help Wanted” signs in a great number of shops, restaurants, and other establishments. 

NFIB’s Monthly Report found that inflation is now the top business problem for small businesses, but labor issues remain a close second. Forty-seven percent of owners had job openings they couldn’t fill.

Internships have historically been summer options for filling slots while employees take vacations. For the past two years, the pandemic has put a damper on the use of summer interns, but things are changing now. 

Should you have summer interns?

There are many compelling reasons to have a summer intern work in your company. Benefits to the business include:

  • Testing talent for future openings. A frequently cited statistic attributed to is that 85% of companies use internships to recruit for full-time roles (I couldn’t track down the original source). You can see if the intern is a fit for your business in terms of skills and company culture. The intern can also see whether he or she would have an interest in working for your after graduation.
  • Filling in for vacationing employees. If your employees typically take time off in the summer for their vacations, summer interns can fill the labor gap.
  • Increase diversity in your company. Bringing interns who are students on board provides added depth to the age diversity in your company. Employees in different generations can learn from each other.
  • Provide mentoring experience for your staff. Employees can hone their mentoring skills by working with summer interns.

There’s really no downside to having a summer intern. Just be sure to hire well, be clear about expectations, and follow compensation rules.

Do you have to pay interns?

Interns aren’t automatically free help. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), you must pay your intern at least the minimum wage. This is the higher of the federal or state minimum wage rate.

The only way to have an unpaid intern is to meet 7 tests listed by the DOL. For example, the intern’s work must complement, rather than displace, the work of a paid employee while providing significant educational benefits to the intern. The tests taken together require you to essentially be a teacher rather than obtaining services from the intern, an arrangement that may not be suitable for your company.

Depending on the type of intern you’re engaging (and assuming you don’t meet the 7 tests for an unpaid intern), you may need to pay considerably more than the minimum wage rate. As a general rule, internships in engineering, programming, finances, and certain other disciplines pay considerably more than minimum wage.

Where do you find interns?

Finding an intern is similar to finding any employee. You can do much of the search and engagement online to save time and have a broad reach of candidates. You may even be able to have interns work remotely.

Post openings on your site or through social media venues (e.g., your Facebook page). Check with local colleges and universities; they offer posting opportunities at no cost to you. You can use specific websites for this purpose, such as Chegg Internships (posting here is free), or Indeed (check pricing).

Final thought

While some companies start their intern search 6 months before they’re needed, it’s not too late to find a good prospect now. WikiJob has a guide to internships for prospective interns so they can understand what they’re getting into.

Barbara Weltman is the founder of Big Ideas for Small Business, Inc., which publishes Idea of the Day®. She is the author of J.K. Lasser’s Small Business Taxes 2022 and other books that inform the small business community of tax, financial, and legal information they should know about. For more information, visit the Big Ideas for Small Business website.