Interns: Anything but free

Interns: Anything but free

Free. FREE. FREEEEEEE. It’s the golden word that stops shoppers in their tracks. It’s the word that interrupts the casual reading of a newspaper. But how does free apply to the world of employment and, most notably, internships?

For the record, until recently, I was dead against accepting free interns in our business. My rationale was simple: Anyone who was not paid would treat the position with less enthusiasm and less commitment and, as a result, would produce lower-quality work. It appeared that I was the last holdout to the tidal wave of “free” interns in the business. Our most recent intern experience proved me wrong.

Internships are an opportunity for an individual in college to gain some initial experience in our business. Be it sales/marketing, F&B, operations, front desk or any other aspect of hotelkeeping, there are young and enthusiastic individuals who want to gain the firsthand experience that can only be found “on the job.” To offer an internship is truly a positive opportunity for these individuals. The offer of income is secondary and, for the most part, not part of the acceptance decision.

But while payroll might not be significantly affected by adding an intern (or two) to your staff, you should not treat any intern as free or cheap labor. Remember, interns are there to learn and to embrace the profession. Their assignment should not be treated lightly. It would be totally inappropriate to hire an intern to clean up a storeroom or merely to assist in an office move. That would be considered an abuse of the learning contract that you have with this individual.

I have developed the following principles that you should consider BEFORE you add an intern to any of your departments:

  1. Each intern needs a mentor or trainer. (As a GM, sorry, you do not have time.) The person who is their mentor must be committed to the value of interns and their training, and must complete the appropriate evaluation forms.
  2. While you might not be paying a salary to the intern, you still need to abide by OSHA and other standards of employment. Your HR department should establish appropriate guidelines.
  3. Internships should be linked to a specific college or university program. This ensures some degree of performance guarantee. When an internship is a mandatory part of a certificate in hospitality management, or another program, you can be assured candidates are committed to their success.
  4. Your interns should be treated as every other employee, with the same respect and fringe benefits. I am not referring to health and pension, but rather, cafeteria, dry cleaning, guest room use for family, office events, etc.
  5. Regardless of what department the intern is hired to work in, you should ensure that he/she gets a broader exposure to your operation, including attending at least one senior staff meeting. 
  6. You should volunteer to pay an intern’s basic transportation costs to and from your property. 
  7. At the successful completion of an internship, you should reward interns with a financial incentive, subject to your available funds.
The future of hospitality depends upon ensuring that today’s youth are given a positive “sampling” of this industry. This is a mutually beneficial opportunity. Embrace it.