It's a typical Catch-22 situation: you can't get a job without experience, and you can't get experience without working for someone.
Internships offer a way to break that vicious circle.
Typically, they're low paid (and in some cases, not paid at all), so they provide inexpensive, short-term help. They allow companies to conduct low-risk recruiting; an internship is not a formal contract of employment and can be terminated if it's not working out. It's also a way to identify potential future hires and see if they're a good fit with your business and your culture.
But it has many more benefits for companies than that. Because interns are usually young and eager, they re-energise the business, boost morale, bring a fresh way of looking at things. They tend to be more in touch with what young people are into than, say, a 40 year old director: useful if the youth sector makes up a large proportion of your market.
Having interns on board often allows you to pick up on interesting or speculative projects that your full-time employees haven't the time for: the "back burner projects" that can add more strings to your company's bow.
It's certainly not all one way, though. The interns themselves benefit from acquiring genuine workplace experience. Often, they are picked up as permanent hires by the company at which they're interning. Even if not, they have valuable experience on their CV. This is far more marketable than school or university qualifications alone, which often tend to be theoretical rather than practical.
Many intern programmes rotate the members through different departments, so they can end up with a better overview of the business than someone who just works in one area.
At LimeTree, we firmly believe in the benefits of taking interns on board. It allows us to infuse the business with bright ideas and new talent. Because most interns don't have prior work experience, we can ensure we train them up in the way we like to operate. Perhaps some directors feel that they don't have the time for such a programme. Our view of this echoes that of Matthew Zinman, president of Z University.
"What employers and managers need to realise is that they don't have the time not to have interns," he says. "The students are highly capable of contributing all kinds of business value. And, when well-managed, the amount of time that interns contribute yields far more productivity."