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how to develop a design internship program that nurtures future talent

Plan a design internship program that nurtures future talent.

Eleanor Hecks, 16 June, 2024

Design leaders can nurture new talent, help students and create a program that helps both parties as much as possible. The benefits to a company might seem obvious at first — hire an intern for zero or low pay and get someone passionate about good design.

However, more goes into training the next generation of designers than one might think. An excellent internship will attract top students with skills developed through school and other internships. Here are the steps to plan a design internship program that nurtures future talent and benefits your brand.

1. know your whys

Make a list of reasons why you want to nurture interns. If your only points are for your company’s benefit, you may want to consider what the worker gets from the experience. People take on internships for various reasons, such as wanting a foot in the door of a company they’d like to work for one day.

Get a poster board or pull up a spreadsheet. Make two columns and list the benefits for the company and the individual. Each column should have equal points.

2. understand interns' needs

Statista estimates that even with fewer job openings, there are still over 8 million unfilled positions in the United States. As the job market becomes more competitive for graduates, they need experience before they walk out after graduation if they want to secure a position.

Interns may prioritize gaining experience, but they must also still complete school, which can compete with the time they have to devote to an unpaid or low-pay position. Consider their needs and whether you can allow time for them to study for exams or be out of the office for classes they still need to finish.

3. establish role guidelines

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Offer designer interns opportunities to take the lead on design projects.

Interns typically stay a few months to a year on the job. It’s crucial to their development that they hit the ground running and get the most out of that time. They’ll need accomplishments to point to in future job interviews.

Establish some guidelines and written instructions around their role so they can avoid waiting for direction. Offer opportunities for them to take the lead on projects and create portfolio highlights after graduation.

4. offer encouragement

More than 1 million students drop out of college annually due to various hardships and concerns. For one, many students feel discouraged about their progress and wonder if they’ll actually succeed in their chosen career field. If not done carefully, internships can be one such source of discouragement to young people as they are surrounded by those with years of experience.

Leaders should provide mentorships and encourage upcoming graduates to stick with the program until they finish. Let them see the advantages of a career in design. Take them to the summer conference. Let them shadow your most successful designer. Bring them onto the project with the well-known corporation. Through it all, encourage their progress versus perfection and make sure to incorporate positive feedback into your meetups.

5. pay interns

The average graphic designer makes about $50,710 per year. You can save money by having interns cover some of the workload. Pay them to work part-time and at the lower end of the pay scale because of inexperience. You'll help them cover college costs while giving them a chance to gain knowledge.

Another idea is to pay for their final school semester if they agree to work for you part-time now and shift to full-time upon graduation. Ensure any agreement is clearly spelled out in writing and agreed upon by all parties. For example, if they agree to a one-year contract after graduating, you will pay a certain amount toward their student loans.

6. stay connected

How to hire and retain future talent.

If your intern shows great promise, stay connected after they leave.

Finding skilled designers takes time and effort. If your intern shows great promise, communicate with them after they leave. Drop them a note every few months and remind them you’re interested in hiring them when they graduate.

Invite them to company functions and treat them like the valuable team members they might one day become.

Put yourself in the intern's shoes

Imagine you’re a young person trying to start a career in design. List what you’d find most valuable to learn and know. If your company can benefit from helpers, interns can be one of the best tools you have to introduce fresh ideas and cut back on salary costs. Having a plan to use their time productively can make or break your internship program and your reputation among college students.