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‘The Power of Internships: What’s Best for Your Business and Our Students’

Local businesses gained the tools for running a successful internship program at the North Shore Chamber of Commerce’s Business Insight Forum on Wednesday, April 7.

Three panelists shared their expertise on launching an internship program, the legal issues surrounding internships, and the benefits that interns hold for the participating businesses, the students and their schools, as well as the economy.

The program was sponsored by North Shore Community College and moderated by Darren Ambler, chairman of The Chamber’s Board of Directors.

The panelists were:
Dr. Raminder Luther, interim dean of Salem State University’s Bertolon School of Business, where for-credit and noncredit internships are offered in 11 different concentrations.
Chris Tuttle, president and chief executive officer of Bridgewell, a comprehensive treatment program for children and adults with psychiatric and development disabilities and other challenges
that offers internships in a variety of departments and concentrations.
Patrick J. Heffernan, Esq., litigation associate at the law firm of Tinti & Navins in Salem, who advises clients on the laws surrounding internships, including the determining factors on whether an intern must be paid.

North Shore Community College representative Lorin Buksa, coordinator of experiential education and internships for the school, said that internships are a valuable way for students to put theory into practice. Of the college’s 74 degree and certificate programs, 32 include an internship component.

The panelists all stressed the importance of establishing clear objectives for an intern, including outlining defined responsibilities and expectations in writing, thoughtfully matching interns with an appropriate supervisor, and instituting a thorough onboarding process that includes training in company policies, data security and other protocols for risk management.

Dr. Luther said interns offer a wealth of advantages to businesses - from soft benefits, such as providing fresh perspectives and ideas and introducing a company to a new audience, to more concrete benefits, such as undertaking back-burner projects and creating a pipeline for future employees. Research has shown that there is a higher rate of retention with interns who are later hired by a company, the panelists said.

Chris Tuttle, who serves as a member of The Chamber’s Board of Directors, said Bridgewell instituted a robust internship program 10 years ago, tapping the area’s colleges as well as agencies such as Urban Youth Collaborative and First Job for candidates.

The company brings on approximately 20 paid and unpaid interns for a variety of positions, including in the agency’s residential programs and clinics, as well as in its finance, human resources, quality management and facilities departments. Many of Bridgewell’s interns have gone on to be hired by the agency, including several clinicians and two nurse practitioners.

“There really hasn’t been a downside to embracing internships,” he said. “They fill critical needs, help shed light on the agency, and bring a fresh perspective to everything you do. “

Heffernan referenced the Federal Fair Labor Standard Act and the Massachusetts Minimum Fair Wage Law with providing the standards for determining if an intern is an employee and therefore whether he or she is entitled to compensation. The standards, he said, apply to nonprofit as well as for-profit businesses.

Heffernan said an intern’s work typically complements, rather than displaces, the work of a paid employee, while providing significant educational benefits. They typically are brought on for a specific duration of time, with their tenure tied to a formal education program by integrated coursework or through academic credit.

Dr. Luther encouraged businesses to compensate interns if they are in a position to do so, noting that students often give up other paying jobs to seek an internship in their field of interest. She said Salem State is pursuing philanthropic support to allow students to embark on an internship without incurring financial hardship.

The North Shore Chamber of Commerce’s new website launching in May will feature a comprehensive resource guide for members seeking interns.

The Chamber’s next Business Insight Forum on Wednesday, April 21, from 9 to 10 a.m. will continue the discussion with a look at the value of apprenticeships and work-based learning opportunities.
Patrick Mitchell, from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, will be the guest speaker for the program presented via Zoom.

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- Sonya Vartabedian, Director of Communications, North Shore Chamber of Commerce

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