My company is gearing up for our next class of summer internal audit interns who will be starting with us next week. For the last six months, we have had a team carefully preparing for the training week that kicks off our summer internships.
Those who read my blog regularly know how important I view internships with respect to engaging and preparing the next generation of internal auditors. I believe one key aspect of that engagement and preparation is a strong internship training program, consisting of both structured training classes and on-the-job training.
Historically, my company's internal audit internship training program has included elements such as a company overview, how to use Excel, and an overview of the technology and tools that we use to perform our jobs, among other topics. We also assign each of our new interns and new employees a buddy within the department to be the go-to person for questions that the intern may not know who else to ask. This is effective in establishing relationships and opening the lines of communication across the department from the onset of the internship.
This year, however, our training program will also include specific training courses designed to teach leadership skills and critical thinking skills. It's important for internal auditors to know how to complete a risk assessment or how to document workpapers. But it's just as important for them to know how to communicate effectively and how to piece together information from various sources to begin to understand situations more comprehensively, including what additional questions need to be asked.
Having gone through multiple cycles of intern onboarding over the years, one thing that comes to mind is that it can be hard to find the right balance between on-the-job training and a structured training program at the outset of the internship. Previous interns' feedback is that if there are too many structured sessions on the front end, they would have liked more on-the-job training. That is because it can be hard to appreciate the concepts presented without fully experiencing the internal audit process. On the flip side, if enough training isn't provided on the front end, interns often say they would have liked to have covered more during the initial training process.
One way to overcome this is through structured case studies and simulations at the beginning of the internship that will give the interns more of that hands-on experience in a training environment. I've found role-playing as part of the case studies and simulations is an extremely beneficial element of the training program. After all, who wouldn't benefit from learning how to deal with a difficult audit client in a "safe" setting through role-playing before actually experiencing it?
As I think about what makes a successful internship training program, several things come to mind:
- Emphasize ongoing on-the-job training. While structured training programs are important, just as important is ongoing on-the-job training. Training at the onset of the internship is important, but it can't just be a point in time. It also is essential to consistently emphasize ongoing learning throughout the internship (and beyond), stressing the importance of asking questions.
- Implement a feedback mechanism. At both the end of the onboarding process and the end of the internship, solicit feedback from participants to understand what worked and what could be done differently. Then, use this feedback to make the next training even better.
- Continually evaluate the training program. Continually evaluating the program can ensure it remains relevant and covers the skills necessary to perform the work, keeping in mind that as expectations for work may change (i.e., leveraging new technologies), the training program should be updated accordingly.
While this post is specifically geared toward intern training programs, the concepts shared here apply to onboarding all entry-level auditors or anyone in a new role. How do you structure training in your department?
I would love to hear ideas and best practices from those reading this blog. After all, a well-planned intern training program is just one of the critical elements in setting the foundation for the next generation of internal auditors.