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Tuesday 11, July 2017 by Jessica Combes

Interns–diamonds in the rough

 

Hiring interns versus employees can be a viable financial option for SMEs while a start-up, in turn, can offer valuable work experience and training.

It is likely that 2017 will be a busier year than 2016 for hiring in the GCC, according to the 2017 GCC Salary & Employment Report, published by recruitment firm, Hays. The results were compiled from a survey of over 2,700 GCC working professionals, which found that 72 per cent of employers plan on recruiting additional staff over the year compared to the 37 per cent who did so in 2016.

It can be challenging for the owners of smaller businesses to know when to hire staff, especially in countries such as the UAE where businesses are responsible for the costs of employees’ residency visas and mandatory health insurance. These costs can put strain on a small company’s already precarious bottom line, but at the same time an SME owner can only achieve so much on their own before business growth dictates that they expand their team. 

Smaller businesses and start-ups are making use of interns in their companies due to how financially efficient it is–the majority of interns do not require a visa as they are generally sponsored by their families and so companies are saving about 75 per cent on their recruitment budgets according to Internsme.com, according to Rohan Nathan, Managing Partner of Nathan & Nathan Human Resources. 

Bringing an intern on board has the potential to be more valuable than simply saving hiring costs.

Hiring the right intern–those that are creative, motivated, proactive and enthusiastic learners–can add tremendous value to the organisation by acting as a catalyst for supporting change and growth of the business, according to Arun Prakash, President and COO of mobile video on demand service, Vuclip. “By leveraging interns’ immense knowledge of technology to stay abreast of trends, especially in social media, companies are able to stay competitive in a dynamic marketplace.” 

The hiring and firing process for SMEs can be a very expensive and lengthy process; having an internship programme enables employers to source local talent from an early stage and can help companies to solve the expense of employee turnover issues, said Sarah Lawrence, Partner, Labour and Employment Practice at the Dubai office of law firm, Squire Patton Boggs. 

“Interns can often be placed very quickly into organisations giving small businesses the chance to react quickly to fluctuations in work levels. Companies then have the option of recruiting full time employees from interns who have been tried and tested and who have already started to understand the company’s culture, values and expectations. Longer term internships can also be used to ascertain whether a particular role has longevity,” said Lawrence. 

She added that an internship programme is a year round recruitment tool giving SMEs continuous and immediate access to great candidates for full-time roles in the event that there is an upturn in workloads. While the wage requirements of interns are modest, interns are often the most highly motivated members of the workforce. 

However, unless the right intern is found and the business owner has a clear plan for them, then there are really few benefits from taking them on, warned Ian Hainey Managing Director of PR agency, IHC. “Anyone thinking it’s just a convenient source of ‘cheap labour’ is heading down the road to a false economy, as having an intern on board can actually add work, since they need to be coached and communicated with properly.” 

Why intern?
Hiring an intern is not just about bringing on an extra pair of hands at a reduced cost; the relationship has to be a two-way street, and businesses have the opportunity to offer interns a number of benefits. 

Businesses generally look for young employees with two to five years of experience, which realistically is not always possible. Internships provide the individual an opportunity to gain work experience in an established company, said Nathan. “Internships allow students to put their theory from university to practice in a real life role. It allows them to put their skills to the test and improve some weaker skills at the same time. Additionally, businesses allow students to network and gain references within their industry. In this sense, companies are opening a door for the intern’s future and adding credibility to their CVs,” he added. 

Candidates applying for full time positions who have interned at least once have more than double the chance of succeeding compared with those candidates who have not, according to data provided by Bloomberg Businessweek. If proper thought and planning is put into the internship programme, businesses will be able to offer interns meaningful work which will help them to bridge the gap between the knowledge they have secured through their education and the workplace, added Lawrence. 

Hainey said that before investing the time to bring an intern on board, a business owner should keep in mind that the intern is there to learn, and when things are busy it is even more important to ensure someone with the available time is assigned to the intern’s personal development. 

Business owners should interview interns as they would for any other role in the organisation–they should be clear on the role and the tasks related to the job. When assessing the candidates, ensure they have a go-getter personality and the right skillsets that are needed to hit the ground running. “If you have an extensive project underway and are short of resources, this is the perfect time to hire an intern. There is no better learning opportunity than to be a part of a comprehensive project with other team mates in the organisation,” said Prakash. 

Small business owners should take the time to plan and decide what they need from an intern and write a job description with clear roles and responsibilities. Having a proper structure in place will allow both parties to maximise the benefits from the arrangement and will give companies a head start in engaging the best candidates, said Lawrence. “Although interns may lack business experience, most will be highly skilled and motivated students or graduates, who are looking to be challenged and who will be a great asset to any business. There is no legal requirement for interns to be paid, however, offering some perks will naturally assist smaller businesses to attract a higher calibre of intern,” she added. 

Finally, small businesses in the UAE should keep an eye on the Emiratisation requirements and take proactive steps to train and engage local nationals from the outset as their companies grow. In July 2016 the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation issued a decree allowing students to acquire permits for companies based outside of the UAE’s many free zones. “Most of the main free zones have provisions for temporary access cards to be issued to university students studying within the UAE–that is, those who already have a residency visa for the UAE–who seek to undertake an internship for a UAE free zone registered company,” said Lawrence. 

Finding the gems
The youth unemployment rate in the Arab States of the Gulf and Middle East, excluding North Africa, is anticipated to be at 29.7 per cent in 2017, a slight improvement from 30.6 per cent in 2016, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).  With the number of students and graduates seeking opportunities to give them an advantage in the job market, Hainey, Lawrence, Nathan, and Prakash unanimously advise business owners to liaise with the career centres at educational institutions, such as universities. 

“We have had success through contacting the universities directly, as there is usually a host of students of most disciplines who would consider giving up some of their free time to learn and get some valuable experience under their belts,” said Hainey. 

Career fairs offer companies an opportunity to meet and interview potential interns and hire them on the spot, while specialised job boards offer a platform for interns and business owners to connect, and

Prakash added that social media networks provide ample platforms and communities for sourcing interns, allowing employers to view activity levels of a candidate, which can be an indication of the potential they possess.

 
Qualities that make a star intern:

Initiative
Regardless of whether it is during the application process or the internship itself, every candidate must show initiative. This demonstrates strong leadership skills 

Positive attitude
Typically the work interns are asked to do is not glamorous. But if an intern stays positive, they have potential for a bright and fulfilling future.

Adaptability

The intern should be open to doing a variety of tasks. 

Communication skills

This trait is one that everyone should acquire before working in a qualified environment. It’s important for the team to be able to communicate problems, tasks and projects effectively both verbally or via email or memo, more so when communicating with clients.

Critical thinking
Business owners should encourage the potential intern to provide solutions to a given problem in order to understand if the candidate has the right critical thinking skills for the role.

Source: Rohan Nathan, Managing Partner of Nathan & Nathan Human Resources.