Hiring an intern can provide a big boost to your accounting business. For the short term, you get extra help when you need it most, such as at tax time, and typically, you get it for a low cost or even free. For the long term, you potentially get a new team member who, after finishing schooling, can join your company already trained on the specifics of your business. Before you begin posting ads for interns at local universities, though, it’s helpful to understand a few things about the process.
Paid vs. Unpaid
If your firm is small or your budget is tight, perhaps you are considering bringing on an unpaid intern and offering college credit or work experience in place of a salary or wage. In the right situation, an unpaid internship can be a win-win for both parties. The intern gets a foot in the door with a potential employer, and the employer gets a smart, educated worker for free.
The complexities of hiring an unpaid intern and remaining within the parameters of the law can make it more trouble than it’s worth. Unpaid internships are illegal in several Canadian provinces, including Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, and Manitoba, and while some provinces carve out exceptions to this rule, they are very narrow in scope, and the onus is on you, the employer, to prove you are following the law. Even in provinces that allow unpaid internships, such as Nova Scotia, the internship must be part of a formal education program, and again, your firm carries the burden of working this out with the intern’s university.
Grants and Loans
Rather than hiring an unpaid intern, your firm might consider a government grant to cover some or all of the cost of bringing on a new employee or intern. For instance, Human Resources and Skill Development Canada (HRSDC) offers a Career Focus grant that pays up to $20 an hour for an intern, and in exchange, your firm agrees to offer the intern mentorship and relevant career experience.
Another option offered by HRSDC is the Career Start program, which pays up to 50 percent of a new employee’s first $5,600 in wages. In return, your firm agrees to hire a recent graduate from one of three participating Canadian colleges for a high-demand position.
The benefits of hiring an intern get canceled out quickly if you hire one who is a bad fit. To avoid this nightmare scenario, you need a solid recruiting strategy, one that creates awareness of the opportunity among top candidates. A good place to start is making a list of the top universities nearby and contacting the accounting department chairs at these schools. You could even try to hold recruiting events on campus, making it easier for students who lack transportation to meet you and discuss the opportunity.
Once you find the right intern, have a long-term strategy for career development that benefits you both. By training them as a potential future hire rather than simply using them as temporary cheap labour, you can use your internship program to help solidify your future staffing needs.