Taking on an intern: what it means for your start-up business

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Gillian McGill Business Engagement Manager

The opportunity to develop key skills and experience can also be incredibly valuable for a prospective intern, especially as we are living through a time where many young people have been deprived of opportunities to develop themselves, enhance their skill sets and form a professional network.

Speaking to us about how an internship opportunity can be a mutually beneficial experience as well as the things you need to consider before deciding to take on an intern is Gillian McGill, Business Engagement Manager at Entrepreneurial Scotland.

We also asked Raising Partners and Runway founder, Helena Murphy, to share her thoughts, having gone from being a Saltire Scholar herself to being a business owner who recently hosted two summer interns from the Saltire Programme. This is what she had to say:

“When you think of traditional corporate internships or work experience placements, these are often unpaid. For me, that just wasn’t an option. I would never have been able to have the internship experience I did 10 years ago had it not been paid. Unpaid internships further widen the privilege and wealth gap and deprive talented individuals of experience that sets them apart in a graduate job market simply because they cannot afford it.”

“I believe companies have a moral obligation to ensure that anyone working in their business, whether through an internship or work experience, should be paid the real living wage for their time and work, and for Raising Partners it was a no-brainer that we would recruit from the Entrepreneurial Scotland programme.”


Tell us about Entrepreneurial Scotland, the Saltire Foundation, and your role?

Entrepreneurial Scotland Foundation is an independent charity that exists to equip organisations and individuals with the mindset, skills, and connections to help deliver personal and business growth. We have 20 years of experience supporting thousands of talented people to unlock their true potential.

I am a Business Engagement Manager who looks after our prestigious Saltire Scholar Internship Programme from a Host Company perspective, whether that be a regular/repeat Host Company that has taken interns over the years, or seeking out potential new Host Companies to partner with. We are always looking for new opportunities.

The aim of our Internship programme is to find, fuel and spark the next generation of future leaders and connect them with businesses who need fresh talent most, by matching high potential undergraduate students from across all degree disciplines and Scottish Universities with like-minded innovative companies from across the spectrum; from early-stage scaling start-ups to large multinational corporations. We have 15 years of experience in doing this on a global scale.


What role can an intern take on within your business?

Interns can take on any role within an organisation. All we ask is that it’s project-based and has some type of commercial significance and tangible outcomes attached to it. It’s incredible to see the wide range of opportunities we offer year on year, from Data Science, Digital Marketing, Business Development and Sales, Manufacturing and Supply Chain Management, Engineering, Environmental/Sustainability to Laboratory Process Development, just to name a few. We work across all industries and sectors.

Interns can work in many different capacities too; virtually working from home to being in-person at the host company base/office, or a blended approach of both, depending on the businesses’ requirements.

For our team and for the 2022 Candidate Pool, it’s really exciting to see that for the first time since Summer 2019, we will be sending interns out internationally again with multiple roles being advertised across North America.


What value can hiring an intern bring to the business?

Our robust recruitment process specifically looks to identify those with an entrepreneurial mindset, drive, and a range of transferable skills, and that they have the ability to bring these straight into a business and hit the ground running, so to speak.

We survey our Host Companies every year, and their feedback confirmed 97% of 2021 Hosts rated their Saltire Scholar(s) as having exceeded all expectations, and 97% rated the programme as good value for money.


What value can the experience bring to the intern?

We are passionate that our internship programme does transform the lives of young people in a truly positive way.

We survey our Scholars every year, and their feedback confirmed 91% of our 2021 cohort saw a significant increase in their own confidence and ambition levels as a direct result of their internship, which they believe will help to shape the future direction of their careers.

In terms of impact to the host companies, many benefitted from significant cost savings through redesign of current processes, ideas for new products and services being explored and appraised, and a better understanding of current and future business opportunities through market research and competitor and landscape scanning and reporting.


What should you consider when selecting an intern to take on?

A range of suitable transferable skills is crucial to any role in any business, and should be the first consideration; i.e., does this person have what it takes to complete the project brief successfully, and are they essential skills, or desirable skills?

Personality is equally important too. The individual has to be able to seamlessly fit into the business team structure and organisational culture quickly.


Why is it important to provide opportunities for young people to gain experience?

It’s never been more important than it is now. The last two years of the pandemic have resulted in far fewer opportunities for young people coming to the fold, and yet they continue to live in a highly competitive world. We feel strongly that they should not become a ‘lost tribe’ who cannot access opportunities because of something completely out of their control.

I think we all have a personal responsibility to nurture and grow our next generation and pay it forward. Our internship programme is an ideal way to do this and bring fresh talent into your business.


Are there any reasons/situations why a business shouldn’t take on an internship?

As our internship programme is specifically designed to be an educational and transformative work experience opportunity for both Scholars and Host Companies, it wouldn’t be appropriate to take an intern on if there is no access to support, guidance, and/or supervision within the company, or clear direction or objectives in terms of their project deliverables to work towards. It wouldn’t align with our values as a programme, and it wouldn’t be fair on either party.


Is there anything additional you think readers should know?

It’s great to see so many of our host companies use our internship programme as a way to develop a sustainable pipeline to graduate recruitment. It doesn’t need to be just a 10-week summer internship. Many companies choose to keep their Scholars on, part-time through their final year of University studies and then many go on to offer graduate roles thereafter.

Over the last 15 years, we have grown an incredible Alumni pool of over 1500 talented individuals. Some are now working in senior leadership roles for the very companies they interned with. We are passionate about creating sustainable and long-term opportunities for young people and businesses, and we are very proud that our internship programme has been able to facilitate and foster that.


How can people get in touch with you?

Email: Gillian.McGill@entrepreneurialscotland.com
LinkedIn: Gillian McGill | LinkedIn

You can access more information on our website as below:
Host a Scholar | Entrepreneurial Scotland