Internships are a rite of passage, a way to get a foot in the door and, for workers transitioning from one industry to another, an opportunity to experience the requirements and demands of a permanent position.
Help-wanted ads seeking interns are relatively common. Recent postings for positions at CannaSafe and LeafLink, respectively, included “The Lab Assistant is responsible for maintaining an orderly and sanitary lab environment at all times” and “Help our growing design team create assets for visual marketing campaigns, including email templates, sales collateral, social media content, and landing pages.”
Natalie Shaul (shown here), vice president of marketing at springbig, which administers dispensaries’ customer loyalty programs, said internships can help aspiring cannabis professionals acquire a wide variety of skills. “I think an internship can help anyone who wants to get into the industry,” she said, adding a caveat: Even though internships create new skills, workers should apply for positions that match their interests and abilities. Employers must screen prospective interns using the same criteria, but allow flexibility. “Sometimes interns aren’t sure what they want to do, so we will let them float between each of the departments,” Shaul said. “Interns will be immersed in everything.”
Squire Velves has a more specific vision for interns at High There!, a social platform that connects cannabis enthusiasts. “We’re looking for driven people with an interest in data mining, marketing, web [operations], advertising, and sales,” said Velves, who serves as chief operating officer.
Although accredited universities have begun offering curricula created to address the needs of students who aspire to enter the cannabis workforce, few training programs prepare participants for the realities of the industry. “Our internships provide real-world experiences in a very competitive industry,” Velves said. “Interns in the cannabis industry today will actually help shape the future of the business.”
Some internships offer participants opportunities to develop skills that are as applicable in the mainstream as they are in cannabis. At New-York-based public relations firm Mattio Communications, interns learn from individuals who succeeded in other industries before making a transition. Although significant challenges confront PR professionals in the cannabis space, workers at Mattio learn skills they can use to gain full-time, permanent employment in any industry.
“Interns are involved in a variety of general activities to help our business run smoothly,” said Talent Acquisition Leader Regina Rear-Connor. “We are a small, fast-paced, agile team. As a result, we all get involved in a variety of functions. Every member of our team plays an important role in our success. In the process, they will learn a lot about public relations and the cannabis industry.”
Managers make the difference between internships that serve both the company and the individual, and positions that leave something to be desired on one or both ends. Heather Smyth, director of marketing at Würk, a company that provides human resource software and services for cannabis companies, said employers must have a clear vision of the scope of the job and be able to communicate expectations up-front.
“Create a job description, onboarding plan, and thirty-, sixty-, and ninety-day” milestone evaluations, she advised. “This sets expectations for both parties and provides the intern with a solid foundation for growth.” In addition, she said, “It is important the rest of the team buys into the organization’s vision in order to ensure the entire team is committed to supporting the intern’s role and understands [the intern’s] tasks and purpose at the organization. An internship, at its core, is a learning experience.”
Part of employee education in any corporate environment, Smyth explained, is learning to see the company’s “big picture” and how employees fit into the culture. “Bring interns to different department meetings, where appropriate, to expose them to other aspects of the operation,” she said.
In many ways, managers must deploy the same strategies as they do for positioning full-time employees for success, she added. For an intern to succeed, an organization must do more than hand them unwanted tasks and then provide little or no structure or evaluation before the arrangement ends.
“Have regular check-ins scheduled and treat [interns] like an entry-level employee, providing feedback and appreciation often,” Smyth advised. “Ideally, this person becomes a full-time employee at the end of their internship, so it’s best to set the intention for a long-term partnership from the start.
“There is definitely potential of a two-way flow for the intern and the company,” she added. “Hiring an intern allows you to learn more about a younger generation and what they are looking for in a career. Take advantage of this time to learn how to position your recruiting and hiring efforts to appeal to a new workforce.”
springbig’s Shaul emphasized benefits for trainees: “Cannabis companies have a plethora of information to teach, and interns can provide immediate assistance in areas of need. We currently have five full-time employees that started out as interns.”
High There! also converts interns into full-timers when possible. The company promotes from within, not only for continuity but also because employees represent investments, not transactional relationships. “We’re looking to grow from within,” Velves said.
Interns by the Numbers
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ “Class of 2019 Student Survey”:
- More than half of all members of the class of 2019 received at least one full-time job offer before graduation. Of those, 57.5 percent participated in an internship program during college.
- Graduating seniors who held internships and applied for full-time jobs received an average of 1.17 offers; those who did not work as interns received an average of .98 job offers.
- 77.3 percent of interns offered full-time jobs with the same company accepted the offer.
- 45.6 percent of 2018 internships converted into full-time positions.
- In 2018, the average annual hourly wage for paid interns was $18.73.