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Insurance policy Featured

1:18pm EDT May 25, 2006
Many employers see summer interns as an inexpensive labor force to take on their more menial tasks for a few months, but not Howard Lewis.

The president, CEO and founder of Family Heritage Life Insurance Company of America has been developing a summer internship program that he hopes will be just as beneficial for students as it is for his Cleveland-based company. But more important, he sees his company’s internship program as an opportunity to create a well-trained pool of future employees.

“You can never have enough qualified, good people,” says Lewis. “That’s what limits the growth of any business. So that’s why we’re so excited about this internship program because that becomes a feeder system for the leadership of our company and future generations.

“We want to develop them in our business so that when they graduate college or they graduate from their master’s programs, they [know] that Family Heritage is a viable outlet for them. We truly believe that we are developing tomorrow’s leaders.”

Lewis has invested many resources into creating the program, which will launch in Family Heritage’s Northeast Ohio offices this summer. He even created a full-time position, filled by Michael Casco, director of college career development, to oversee the program. Casco himself is a recent college graduate. Lewis saw the value in hiring a young professional who understand how college students think and the issues they face.

Lewis’ and Casco’s goals are to make the internship as rewarding of an experience for students as they can, so that even those who don’t become Family Heritage employees down the road will have gained practical, real-world experience.

“There are lots of companies who do summer internship programs, but many of those programs tend not to be rewarding for the college student because the kind of things that they’re doing are not really impactful work,” says Lewis. “So many times you hear young people going into an internship program that turns out to be just not very fulfilling or rewarding, or they’re doing some menial task, or they’re doing some function where they just show up and answer phones or do file work.”

Family Heritage’s program will open with a weeklong sales school, followed by training and development meetings at least three mornings a week. Students will be exposed to not only their primary focus, they will also learn about the internal operation of the company, its history and its philosophy.

Students will be paired with a mentor who will talk with them every week to see how things are going and what problems they’re having.

Although Lewis hopes to recruit interns who may eventually want to sell insurance, he has opened the program to students in all disciplines, realizing that a successful company has strength in all of its departments.

“We hope that there’s every kind and size and description of student in that group,” says Lewis. “We hope there are accountants, we hope there are people who want to study investments and banking, we hope there are people who are studying journalism and photography and communications and IT and whatever.”

Lewis plans to expand the program to all of the company’s Ohio offices next summer, and the following year, it will launch nationally.

“At the end of the summer, the young person has made good income to be able to go back to school, they really have learned a lot about themselves, and they’ve really learned a lot about our company and our business,” says Lewis.

HOW TO REACH: Family Heritage Life Insurance Company of America, www.familyheritagelife.com

Plan for success
Thousands of companies have internship programs, but not all of them are successful or rewarding. The No. 1 way to ensure a winning internship program is to have a detailed plan in place. Here are some things to consider.

Salary. Salary rates and other benefits are set at your discretion, but co-op and internship salaries tend to resemble salaries of entry level employees in the same field. Top students in any major may require higher salaries if your organization wishes to be competitive.

Housing and benefits. You should, at the very least, be prepared to provide information on about housing and apartment complexes that provide short-term leases.

Many students are covered by their parents’ or universities’ health insurance plans, but you must still determine to what extent you will provide benefits such as sick days, vacation time, tuition reimbursement, etc.

Orientation and training. Give students the same orientation to policies that you provide other employees. Clearly communicate your expectations for behavior and performance at the beginning of the work term. And remember, you will likely need to train students on your company’s equipment and software.

Supervision. The quality of supervision can make or break your co-op/internship program. One of the primary reasons students choose to co-op or intern is to learn, so a supervisor should be interested in on-going teaching and coaching.

Evaluation. Keep students continually informed of what is expected of them and how well they are performing. You should also create a means for students to evaluate your program internally. This enables you to identify strengths and potential problem areas in your program.

Source: Virginia Tech Career Services Web site, www.career.vt.edu/EMPLOYER/Co-op/Develop.html