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What makes an internship program shine? Meaningful work and flexibility.

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What makes a good internship program? Meaningful work opportunities, a focus on innovation and new ideas, and flexibility and inclusivity are all key to hosting a successful program, according to Yello, an early talent recruitment platform.

The company announced its list of top 100 internship programs July 27, and in the announcement, indicated what goes into making internships worthwhile for employers and their employees. Employers had to self nominate to be considered for the list.

Northrop Grumman’s internship program landed the top spot, Yello said, because of how the company exposes interns to various parts of the business; how it “maintains an openness to innovation” regarding engagement, DEI and professional development; and how the program offers multiple start dates, a hybrid program and staggered L&D sessions to accommodate different school schedules.

Other programs were spotlighted for their performance in specific areas. The Trade Desk, for example, won the Intern Growth Award for the way it enables interns to translate their academic knowledge into real-world experience through a “learning by doing” culture and a strong mentorship culture.

Mattel won the Innovation Award for how it allows interns to own individual projects during their time at the company.

And Radio Flyer won the Small But Mighty Award for how interns integrate into a company of less than 500 employees, showcasing that internships have a place even at smaller companies.

Internship programs wavered in the wake of the pandemic, many of them being canceled due to social distancing requirements. A surge of internships returned in summer 2022 — and while employers slowed down internship hiring in 2023, one-third of respondents to a National Association of Colleges and Employers survey released in April said that economic headwinds were a factor in doing so.

However, intern satisfaction with programs has decreased significantly since the pandemic, Glassdoor data reveals. Only 42% of technology industry interns surveyed by Glassdoor said they would recommend their internship to a friend; in 2019, that share at times surpassed 70%.

That means employers will need to think carefully about how they intend to run their internship programs, which can be effective hiring and recruiting tools for organizations, one expert previously wrote for HR Dive. Interns should have specific offices or areas set up for them, including a desk and supplies, as well as clear guidance as to who they can go to with questions and concerns.

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