Design internships: why hiring interns makes your company better – and why you should pay them

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It was a few years ago when I realised that the industry could be doing a lot more to nurture the young, upcoming pool of design talent.

Students are now spending more money than ever before on university fees, yet are still leaving without the transferable skills necessary to successfully make it in the world of work.

Offering internships not only provides students with valuable, hands-on experience, it also allows us as businesses to give something back to the design industry. Many individuals that are ‘home-grown’ in design agencies will go on and use the knowledge and insight gained throughout their internship to thrive in various design-focused positions at great companies.

So what can we as an industry do to make sure we’re providing our designers of tomorrow the best possible chance of success?

Combine skillsets

Whether you’re an agency that specialises in UX, or your expertise ranges from typography to product consultancy, internships are a great way to bring a variation of skillsets on board.

Not only will this ensure you maximise the range of knowledge you’re bringing into the business, it will also unlock a whole new level of collaboration and creativity amongst your existing employees.

If you have the chance, try to be as broad in your search for interns as possible. Many businesses find that after a while they become accustomed to doing things in a certain way, something that’s not always a good thing. Students are full of youthful energy and ideas that can have an extremely refreshing effect; they create a certain buzz around the office and you’ll soon find their attitude infectious.

Invest time and effort
The aim of running internships is not to benefit your business financially, but rather to introduce new ways of thinking and spark innovative ideas.

You need to be sure to invest time to get your interns off the ground and give them a proper introduction. Whether they’re going to be working with you for three days or three months, it’s essential they feel included and valuable to you. Show them where they will work, introduce them to key members of the team and ensure that your team knows who they are.

Also, be conscious that when they get down to work, most of the time, graduates have been taught to produce ideas quickly rather than taking a step back and exploring other options. It’s crucial to give your interns enough space to be creative, but still mentoring and supporting them when needed.

Motivate through passion and skill

With many internships still being unpaid, and the majority of students ending up having to shell-out their own personal money on travel, it’s ideal if you are able to offer your interns at least minimum wage. Not only will this encourage more of the younger generation to participate, it will ensure you are not at risk of creating an underclass of perma-interns, skipping from one placement to the next.

As well as incentivising through payment, you need to make sure you’re giving individuals reasons to not only apply but furthermore, to stick it out until the end.

Giving interns their own work space that’s well-integrated amongst the rest of the team means they can have full view of what’s going on across the business. Make it public and make it open, this way you’re dedicating them with a separate area but not segregating them from everyone else.

Many universities now offer ‘sandwich’ courses where students are obligated to carry out a certain amount of hands-on work experience before graduating. This is a great way to combine both degree-level subject knowledge with the practical skills needed to thrive in the industry. Universities that don’t offer these courses should still be encouraging students to pro-actively look for placements with businesses. Meanwhile, people who are passionate and responsible for the sector should continue to step in.

Internships are not only a way of businesses shaking up their cemented method of doing things; they’re a reflection of the industry’s health and growth. At the end of the day, it’s better to train people and have them work for a competitor than see the design industry diminish due to lack of expertise.

Andy Budd is co-founder & director at Brighton-based UX agenct Clearleft.

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