Internships: Making Them Work with Gen Ys

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Who Are Today’s Interns? What Gen Ys Value

While some companies may have interns that fall into the Gen X cohorts, the majority of interns are members of Generation Y. Gen Ys have different expectations than previous generations did when it they entered the workforce, so it is important that organizations and leaders spend time understanding how this cohort is different and what they value.  Understanding this generation will allow organizations to have more successful internship experiences, that are a win-win for both parties.

When organizations are recruiting interns, it is important to note that Gen Ys will seek out organizations that align with their needs and values.

Gen Ys place a high value on flexibility. They live very fluid, unstructured lives where they are able to access information 24/7. They are used to being able to shop, study, work and conduct business at all hours. When they come into organizations, they have the expectation that this fluidity will continue. Gen Ys are not used to a structured 9-to-5 world.

Gen Ys also have a strong desire to contribute. They have grown up in a world where their opinions have been sought after, listened to and acted upon. This also means that Gen Ys expect open communication, not only with colleagues but also with managers and more senior leaders. They haven’t grown up in a hierarchical world and therefore expect to be able to exchange thoughts and ideas with employees at all levels. Gen Ys are accustomed to working in teams and excel in environments where they can collaborate with others.

Interns will expect some element of fun at work. Gen Ys like social activities at work and they seek out organizations where there is a blend between getting work done and having a good time. Knowing this desire,is important when recruiting Gen Y interns. Many of them will ask about an organization’s social activities during the interview process.

Overall, Gen Ys are highly civic-minded and expect their employers to demonstrate a high level of corporate social responsibility. They look for ways to give back to local, regional or global causes  and they expect the organizations that they work for to do the same.

Orientation and Engagement of Gen Y Interns

When you are working with interns, it’s important to treat them as you would any other new employee. All interns should have a proper work space, a company email account and access to the building. It’s also important that interns have the opportunity to access learning either through e-learning or internal workshops. Organizations should work to ensure that interns receive as many “employee perks” as possible, such as access to the gym company store, or subsidized cafeteria. All of these aspects of the work environment will make an intern feels as though he or she is part of the team which is a major driver for Gen Ys

During the orientation phase, managers and/or HR representatives should establish expectations up front. This includes letting the intern know the expected working hours and dress code as well as policies regarding vacation time or time off. Some organizations assume that all interns will know what their work expectations are, but this is not always the case, especially with new entrants into the workplace who have had little exposure to the work world.

Gen Ys expect and require a lot of feedback. For this reason, it’s important to assign interns to managers and supervisors who have the time to be available for questions and  who can provide feedback and coaching to enhance their skill development.

It is recommended that organizations connect their Gen Y intern with other interns in various departments. Since this generation is loyal to their colleagues and their pack, they will seek out opportunities to bond with their peers. They are also very social and will want to connect with their colleagues in informal ways. It is  helpful to assign a “buddy” to an intern,who is not a manager, so they can build a strong relationship within the organization. This allows the intern to learn the informal culture of the organization and it gives them a resource to go to for advice.

Giselle Kovary

As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that target, motivate and engage a multigenerational workforce. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. She has devoted more than fifteen years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance. Giselle has co-authored two books: Loyalty Unplugged: How to Get, Keep & Grow All Four Generations and Upgrade Now: 9 Advanced Leadership Skills. She has a Master’s degree in communication studies from the University of Windsor.

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