I (Marshall) started my career in floating as an intern, coming in to the shop each Monday to learn about floating, sanitation, and better understand the intricacies of construction projects. For every four hours I worked, I was expected to schedule myself a float as part of the curriculum. Being able to float once a week as part of my learning process would have been enough to keep me coming back week after week, but I also soon realized that I had stumbled into a very strange and special place.
I stuck around as an intern for more than 6 months before they had a part time opening. Half a year after that, I was working full time at Float On.
A source of future employees
At some point you might want to a hire an employee that you know is enthusiastic, dedicated, hard working, and you know you and your coworkers can get along with. If an intern is willing to come back week after week and work in your shop with next to no reimbursement, it is a pretty good sign that they are enthusiastic about floating.
People that are enthusiastic and love what they are doing tend to make better employees.
In the United States, one of the legal requirements for internships is not promising a job at the end of the internship. You can end up pulling employees from your intern pool, but you should never tell them that they are entitled to a position as a result of being a part of the program.
Interns spread the word
If an intern enjoys what they are doing, they are probably going to tell other people about it.
Of course they will – floating makes for a great conversation piece at parties! A happy intern will go out into the world and tell every one they know about floating, and how cool your float center is. That means more customers for you.
Your interns are also some of your most valuable evangelists. They spend a lot of time around the tanks and learn all about how they work. Other than shop employees, they’re the best resource you have for spreading accurate word-of-mouth information about the tanks.
Useful and fresh ideas
Federal guidelines mandate that businesses cannot profit from non-paid internships. If anything, an internship overall should count as an expenditure for your company rather than an asset. But just because they aren’t directly making you money, that does not mean an intern can’t be useful.
Our interns typically start by coming in during our deep cleans which we do twice a week. We teach them how to clean our tanks and rooms and balance our water levels by showing them what to do, and then having them do it. Interns can do research, write blogs, contact influential community members to offer them free floats, conduct small informal studies, help produce social media content… truly, the possibilities are endless.
If the intern is always cleaning salt, or always doing any single task over and over for that matter, it becomes harder to prove that they’re learning something. We have a checklist of tasks around our shop (about 30 items) and we have interns complete each task twice before they are done with the first tier of their internship. This makes sure that they are getting to have hands on experience with all the essential tasks in the shop, and that we have are keeping track of what they’ve learned.
You might find an intern that is talented in a skill that could help your shop immensely. Also, because they lack previous experience, interns can be a great source of new ideas and offer unique perspectives. Since they haven’t developed bad habits, routines, and preconceptions about how you do things, they can look at your business with a “fresh set of eyes” and make observations that you and your coworkers might have overlooked.
An affordable way to experience floating
At Float On, we have a philosophy that everyone who wants to float should be able to float – especially if they are willing to come into your shop, work hard, get all salty, and devote several hours of their day to learning about the float business. Lets face it, floating can be an expensive (healthy) habit.
Lots of people – students, retirees, people living paycheck to paycheck, people who are out of work – simply aren’t able to regularly shell out the fifty-plus dollars to float in your center. As part of our intern curriculum we require that our interns complete one float for every 4 hours that they spend interning with us. This allows people the ability to float who might not otherwise get a chance. Also, multiple float sessions seem to be an obvious and necessary part of a float internship curriculum: the best way to learn about floating is to actually float.
We believe that, while providing floats to interns may cost us some money in the short term, it pays off in the long run. It also creates goodwill in our community. The more people hear about what we are doing, the more they want to support us. Interns spread the word about floating and attract people to our center. They often end up buying floats to give to people and will continue to float even after they leave the internship.
It’s important to note that there are plenty of legalities involved here. The floats cannot be construed as payment for labor, or else they are considered wages and need to be taxed. We set up our program so that the interns are required to float and cannot share their floats with anyone else. Our intern floats are not a form of compensation, they are a crucial part of the intern’s education.
Creating unexpected opportunities
The benefits of having interns can sometimes be difficult to quantify and can come in unexpected ways. Who knows? Maybe one of your interns grows up to be the President. And because the President had a great internship experience and remained an avid floater and thus exceptionally relaxed and level headed, we are able to avert a devastating war that could have wiped out civilization as we know it. Your internship program just saved the world.
That’s a farfetched example, but the point is that your internship program might yield interesting and unexpected results. Many interns are college students looking for a way to get credit in a health related field. Having dialogue with the academic community can only help the float industry. If college students begin to think that there is something worth studying in floating, their professors might catch on, and that may lead to greater academic interest in floating, which could lead to large scale studies which could be hugely beneficial to the float industry.
Your intern may be part of a niche group that could greatly benefit from floating. For example, we had an intern who was very active in the local modern dance community. As a special internship project, she brought in other dancers to float, they choreographed dance pieces based on their experiences, the dances were then performed, filmed, and posted on a blog. Word spread to other members of the dance community, and dancers started to come in for floats.
How our program works
There are 6 requirements for unpaid internships that will satisfy the US Department of Labor:
- The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment.
- The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern.
- The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff.
- The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.
- The intern is not entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship.
- The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.
These guidelines are specific to the United States. If you are living in another country you will want to look up the guidelines there.
There are also going to be local and state requirements you will need to meet that differ from place to place. In the state of Oregon, one of the requirements is that the training you provide your interns be applicable to situations outside of your specific business. In other words, it has to be training they could take elsewhere, rather than things specific to our shop such as our specific scheduling practices and receipt tracking procedures, etc.
Oregon law also expects the interns education to have some form of advancement, so that the interns are not doing the same thing all the time but continually learning new skills and applying them to increasingly advanced projects. To meet this requirement we concocted a tiered internship program where each intern is able to receive a certain amount of training in one area and then “graduate” to the next tier where they will be learning a whole new set of skills and information. We keep track of the intern’s hours and what tasks and training they have completed, and we have “reviews” when the interns graduate to the next tier.
A few tips for running a smooth internship operation
Successfully running a float shop can be exhausting and chaotic, doing it with a bunch of interns running around can make it more so. Here are a few tips to keep your internship program from going off the rails:
- Have intern orientations at set times each week, so if you have a bunch of newbies show up, you can explain the basics to them all at once without having to repeat yourself over and over again.
- Have a system in place for tracking your intern’s contact information, what trainings they have done, for how many hours, and how many floats they have completed. At Float On, we use FloatHelm.
- Designate one or two specific employees or owners to watch over the program and take on the task of managing interns when they are in the shop. It cuts down on confusion and interruptions if the interns know there is one person they can go to if they need to be assigned a new task.
We’ve been very happy with our internship program. We have had over 500 interns pass through our shop in the four years that we have been open. It has led to us hiring some of our best employees (including yours truly) and helped spread our name all over town. Our interns have made valuable contributions to our company and have led us down some interesting paths that we certainly wouldn’t have gone down on our own. They value the experience we give them – the chance to float and learn more about this strange enterprise – and we value their dedication, enthusiasm, fresh ideas, and the opportunity they give us to increase awareness of floating throughout our community.
If you’d like a template for setting up your own internship program (along with tons of other resources for growing your float tank center, take a look at our Step-by-Step Marketing Package.