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Interns - you get what you pay for


Written by Jamie Pitman, Communications Manager at Create Ecommerce, in the run up to the launch of the Intern Placement ProgrammeCreate Ecommerce, host over 10,000 websites and online shops built with its applications.  Check out the Create Ecommerce Web Designer’s Kit to use the system for your own easy bespoke builds and take advantage of continued customer support for your clients.

In the current economy everyone is looking to save money where they can; even supercharged start-ups need to tighten their belts in some areas. But while it’s great to nab a bargain on a service or product, there are some things that are always worth the price you pay for them - skill, enthusiasm and drive.

For instance there’s been some hot debate, not least among the businesses of Brighton, over how (or indeed if you need) to pay interns. At Create Ecommerce we’re firm believers that a good wage and excellent working conditions are cornerstones of a growing business and a passionate workforce. Of course, it can be easy, when looking to seriously cut expenditure while drowning in offers from graduates and students desperate for experience and internships, to take the easy route, but ultimately you get what you pay for.

When your intern goes unpaid, the relationship is mutual: both your business and the intern seek to get something free from the other. Your business will gain from work being done for free and the intern will receive valuable experience. However, once you both have what you needed, the relationship ends and you can easily both go your separate ways.

When interns are paid fairly and are given an opportunity for gainful employment at the end of their internship, there is an investment that goes both ways. Not only will you be training up a potential future recruit in all the skills they need to do great work for your business - but they will feel far more inclined to see the experience as an important stepping stone in their career.  Which will lead them to deliver a much higher quality of care and enthusiasm in their work. They won’t just be learning the skills; they’ll be learning how those skills best apply to your business, which can only be of benefit to both parties.

After all, why train someone to be the best employee they can be, only to watch as some other company swipes them away?

Another factor is office relationships. If an intern goes unpaid and doesn't have the prospect of a job at the end of it, it’s highly likely that they won’t be around for long. The rest of their team knows this and, although they may be very supportive, friendly and polite, they’ll know that any attempt to build significant team cohesion is wasted on the intern. In this case the intern can feel like an unwanted intruder, barging in, stealing knowledge and running away with it.

At Create Ecommerce, we have two recent examples of paid interns who have developed their skills with us and in turn have been provided with fantastic opportunities to grow with the company, expanding their skills in ways they might not even have expected.

Andy Hansen is a talented illustrator and graphic designer, but when he joined Create Ecommerce as a paid Design Intern his knowledge of coding was fairly limited but on the rise. Through his partnering with a skilled web designer, and with the potential of a full-time job at the end of his 6-month internship, he enthusiastically developed the skills necessary to fully realise his abilities as a HTML and CSS wizard. He may have come in drawing fantastic logos and artwork, but now, as a full-time and permanent Junior Designer, he has the skills necessary to not only create these amazing works of art, but also to actually implement them on websites, giving him a far greater level of job satisfaction.  Two things that most likely wouldn’t have happened if Andy went unpaid: it’s possible that his relationship with the web designer would have felt temporary and therefore not resulted in a successful transference of skills, and without a job at the end of the line his quality of work may have suffered.

Andy says it best himself: “Brighton’s not a cheap place to live and if this internship were unpaid there’s no way I could have afforded the opportunity. Not paying interns means only those in a privileged position can afford to develop their skills in the workplace. The things I’ve learned at Create Ecommerce have given me not just another string to my bow but an entirely new bow!”

Although it’s important to ensure your intern grasps the nature of the workplace and the product very early on, it’s equally important to at some point drop them in the deep end, allowing them to produce and manage smaller projects of their very own. This shows you have faith in the training you have provided them and enables them to feel a strong sense of achievement and an even stronger affinity for the workplace.

Junior Developer Andrada Focsa started out at Create Ecommerce as a paid intern in her summer holidays while studying Computer Science at Sussex University, and before she knew it she was coding her very own widgets and seeing first-hand the effects her work was having on the Create Ecommerce user base as soon as these products and tools were released. This was a huge deal for her and saw her confidence, enthusiasm and dedication to the company and its customers grow exponentially.

Andrada says, “It’s so great to be treated as an equal when doing your internship! I’m now working as a permanent, part-time member of staff and once I’ve completed my degree I’m looking forward to using the skills I’ve learnt at university and in the workplace full-time with Create Ecommerce.”

One important thing to remember is the legal ramifications of not paying interns who are filling a needed role in your business. It’s illegal to employ an intern to fulfil tasks that are strictly necessary to your business and that should be completed by a new employee. If Andrada had gone unpaid then under the law we wouldn’t have been able to ask her to build the widgets and tools that gave her such satisfaction and that helped our customers’ businesses. An unpaid intern will only receive the bare minimum experience of completing far smaller, non-essential tasks. It’s yet another great reason to pay your interns; they’ll develop more valuable skills and you can ask them to do more meaty jobs that will actually make a difference to your business!

These are just two good examples of where paying interns has paid off. There are sure to be more, and we’re delighted that Wired Sussex’s new intern programme (IPP) will help to facilitate the growing needs for skilled, dedicated staff and new approaches to recruitment.

Of course, I haven’t touched on the moral argument for paying interns. This is because as much as we at Create Ecommerce strongly feel it’s right and fair, as a conscious business seeking to help Brighton’s student and graduate community, to pay interns, it still is in some minds a grey area. I just hope that, if paying interns is something you’re against, instead seeing it is as a form of ‘work experience’ you’ll give it a try sometime and see for yourself that you truly do get what you pay for.

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