Young Woman Business Internship Interview_1200px

If you've welcomed some fresh new faces into your company's offices this summer, your business is not alone. Company internships are on the rise, according to a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

Employers plan to hire 3.4 percent more interns this summer than in 2016, with most of the college students and recent grads going to companies with more than 20,000 employees, according to the NACE study.

But while traditional internships tend to be a one-way street - with managers and executives imparting business skills and industry know-how to aspiring Millennials - today's newer intern strategy is more likely to be collaborative.

"Innovation is happening so fast that if you're not asking talent coming into the business what their priorities are and how they get their information, your business can quickly be viewed as irrelevant," said Kathryn Keene, who oversees talent acquisition at City National Bank.

If your company is employing interns this summer, don't miss the opportunity to get first-hand intel on topics such as what they and their peers think of your brand, how effective they find your sales and marketing strategy and how you could streamline operations with technology, said Arahi De la Toba, who runs City National's college internship program.

Along with their daily duties, her 35 interns attend regular networking sessions with managers from various bank divisions where both sides learn from each other. In the past two years, the program has doubled in size and increased diversity. Last year, the bank hired nearly 60 percent of its interns as full-time colleagues.

"We've learned that the younger generation wants quick, short communications and they want to go get the information themselves. They don't want to wait for someone to send it to them," De la Toba said.

College interns working this summer for RBC's U.S. Wealth Management team in Minneapolis aren't the only ones picking up important new business skills. More than two dozen of the firm's managers are also participating in RBC's two-month-long “reverse internship" program.

As part of this groundbreaking program, managers won't just teach skills. They'll also make a special point of learning from their college interns.

Collaborative internships like this one at RBC Wealth Management (a division of City National Bank's parent company, Royal Bank of Canada) are a new take on the concept of “reverse mentoring." The model involves pairing younger workers or interns with older, established workers. The goal: Interns as well as employers learn things about business trends and new ways of thinking.

Learning From the Younger Generation

One of the key tasks for RBC's 27 summer interns is suggesting new strategies for interacting with Millennial clients.

“A huge challenge in today's financial industry is attracting younger wealth management clients," said Tom Sagissor, president of U.S. Wealth Management for RBC. “We also want to improve how we communicate about issues related to intergenerational wealth, since many of today's high-net-worth clients may someday transfer significant assets to their Millennial children and grandchildren."

The younger generation has a lot to offer, said Lisa Sorenson, RBC's senior director of U.S. Wealth Management human resources.

“Our interns are sharing insights related to technology, current culture and the latest academic findings—many different things that can help us bring even more strategic thought into our work," she said.

How to Make a Reverse Internship Work for Your Company

If your firm is interested in setting up an internship or mentoring program that allows interns to share knowledge and insights with you, there are several ways to make sure it's effective.

1. Introduce Overall “Generational Awareness." 

Start by giving both managers and interns an overview of common generationally related workplace issues. During a short workshop you could review and discuss stereotypes such as: “Millennials have no work ethic" or “Baby Boomers always resist new technology."

2. Clarify Work Expectations Before You Hire

You, and not the intern, should come up with work objectives, just as you would during a more traditional internship. “You need to say upfront, 'Here are five things I want to learn from you during this internship, and here are five things I can teach you, too,'" said Lisa Walden, generational consultant for BridgeWorks, a firm specializing in multigenerational workplace issues.

3. Make Your Program Voluntary

Don't assign managers to a reverse internship program if they have issues working with younger employees. Consider sending a clear message from top management to employees, such as: “Learning more about interacting with younger customers and employees is one of our key objectives this year." Ask your team to suggest options (including reverse internships) and solicit volunteers to get involved.

4. Think Strategically

It's probably true that your intern can help you learn to use social media or coach you on new business apps. But that would not maximize their time, Walden said. “It's smarter to ask your intern 'How do you think our company can more effectively tap into social media?' rather than 'How can I post a tweet from my phone?'"

5. Measure Your Success

Establish concrete goals for your internship and determine how to measure whether you've met them. For instance, your shared goal might be to come up with five new ways your company can better retain Millennial employees, or to update your social media strategy so you increase your number of followers by a certain percentage.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute an offer or solicitation to sell the products or services of the providers identified. City National Bank makes no recommendation of the products or services offered by the providers mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed are those of the persons quoted and not necessarily the opinions of City National Bank.

City National Bank (CNB) is an affiliate of RBC Wealth Management and an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Bank of Canada.