HIRE LEARNING

Trial Your Hire with an Internship

By , October 1, 2010

You know those late-night T.V. infomercials selling car wax, power juicers and skin cream – all with a 30-day money-back guarantee? These perky purveyors don’t expect you will return their product, but they need a way to get it into your hands risk-free.

Likewise, in the workplace wouldn’t it be great to test out a new job candidate before having them sign on permanently?

Internship programs fit the bill. Internships are work-based learning experiences that give job seekers a chance to try out a role for a few weeks or months, at a fraction of the cost of a salaried employee. The goal is to give the worker enough time to demonstrate his or her aptitude for the job, and whether they are good fit for the people and work culture

Students often choose internships to gain experience and sometimes class credits. Businesses can extend these programs to include youth and adults with disabilities who are looking to develop job skills and get their foot in the door.

With October designated as National Disability Employment Awareness Month, now is a great time to bring a qualified person with a disability on board as an intern. Many state employment agencies that seek to place candidates with disabilities in jobs encourage internship experiences, especially if the job hunter lacks needed job skills or training.

Some states offer trial periods, which are similar to internships but geared towards more experienced workers. (Find qualified candidates in your state here.)

In Vermont, the Risk-Free Trial Employment program offers a company up to six weeks of a risk-free opportunity with a candidate. During this time, businesses do not pay or withhold federal or state taxes, Workers Compensation Insurance or health benefits. If it doesn’t work out, the program simply ends without a job offer.

The value to employers is clear: You’ll get a first-hand look at a person’s talent and long-term potential before making a hiring decision.  You’ll diversify your workforce and increase productivity at a significantly less cost. If you hire the worker, you’ll realize a reduction in the time and cost of recruitment and training, and gain a qualified employee.

Best of all, internship programs are easy to put in place. You can work with state agencies to customize the program to meet your skill level needs, including creating a job description, tasks and activities, and standards of work performance.

The National Collaborative for Workforce and Disability has tips to help companies design a successful internship program or other work-based learning experience. In each program, employers should:

  • Expect the best and challenge all interns to perform well. Provide necessary orientation and training and assess performance regularly. Plan regular meetings with the intern to provide constructive and honest feedback and guidance.
  • Act as a mentor. Be a compassionate source of advice, support and guidance.
  • Be a role model. Be an example of positive and appropriate workplace behavior.
  • Teach interns the connection between school, work, and their future goals. Offer suggestions about how to increase his or her chances for future career success.

By opening up your company to people with disabilities you’re helping to shore up the unemployment gap for this group. Even if you’re not prepared to hire, you still help by creating a pipeline of qualified and job-ready employees that will benefit them in years to come.  Which is a far better investment than a set of Ginsu steak knives.

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Author: Suzanne Robitaille

Suzanne Robitaille is the founder of abledbody.com, a website on disability issues. She is the former assistive technology columnist for BusinessWeek.com, giving rise to her fascination with technology that helps people with disabilities surmount barriers in the workplace and life space. She is also the author of The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology & Devices. As a writer and blogger, Suzanne is a trusted source of disability information for The Wall Street Journal, ABC News, HealthDay, Media Post, Ability Magazine, Disaboom and more. Suzanne lost her hearing at age four and grew up profoundly deaf. In 2002 she received a cochlear implant, which she credits as "the ultimate assistive technology."