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We are a local gov't organization, who gets batches of Interns to help with specific help desk. These Interns are college students from local university who are required to do internship. If they have extra time, they can choose to help us with tasks for extra work experience and enrichment.

In the past, we had batches of Interns who either

  1. Did the help desk job well

  2. Did the help desk job well and were motivated to help us with our tasks (one guy was so enthusiastic, I swear, he must have done back flips and hang springs on his way to work).

For some reason, we recently stumbled upon a dry season

  1. Interns don't do help desk job well, even after my supervisor and their supervisor (who reports to my supervisor) has given them a talking-to about tardiness, excessive absences, etc, etc

  2. one Intern who expressed interest in shadowing us backed out as soon as they saw how cumbersome the work was (even though we gave hint "powershell scripting" and "stackexchange.com").

This intern is even blaming our other teams for making his particular task so hard, is hinting how we are not like grand organizations such as Google.com, and is passively aggressively refusing to do the extra work, but at the same time, is not doing the job he was hired to do. Cannot make this stuff up!

Now, I have been asked to do an "interview" of the remaining Interns who are on help desk duty and performing poorly (basically all of them), to see what interest and motivates them.

The thinking is, if they have something to look forward to after performing their help desk duty, (i.e. if their interest is SQL programming), they will be better at help desk, and extra duties of helping us.

One cannot ask point blank, "ok, what are you interested in?", so what is the best way to get this information? And I searched Google for interview questions, but somehow it doesn't seem to fit with this crowd.

Also, we strategically set the times to be 30 minutes after they are scheduled to come in. If they are 15 minutes late to this meeting, we won't reschedule.

Supervisor is dealing with writing Interns up, etc, etc, but this is a last ditch effort to make the best of who we have.

EDIT:

This is paid internship. Interns get experience of helping users with basic IT queries, i.e. password resets, etc. If Intern finishes their tickets for the day, they can choose to work on other IT projects that gives them on-the-job training.

UPDATE:

These are really great and insightful responses, please keep them coming!

UPDATE II

One of the takeways I am getting from your comments is to allow Interns free reign on whatever IT project they wish to do .... 10% of time is good number .... hope Management agrees :-)

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    Sounds like your intern program is structured around palming off undesirable help desk work rather than being a valuable experience. Rule of thumb, if a problem affects everyone it is not a coincidence of personal flaws, but an organisational problem. – Nathan Cooper May 9 '15 at 16:42
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    IMHO support desk is the worst place for an internship (at least, for the intern). Either they have to just to read the manual "Is the computer on? Have you tried restarting it?" or they pass the call to an experienced guy or they find themselves "alone" bearing with a problem they have no experience to solve while a (possibly angry) user is at the line. They should start in other parts of the organization/IT and after they know it a little they may be of some value in helpdesk. And if they see themselves not doing something of value, is no surprise they don't feel motivated – SJuan76 May 9 '15 at 19:05
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    'One cannot ask point blank, "ok, what are you interested in?",' Why not? – DJClayworth May 9 '15 at 19:07
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    It seems odd that you would suddenly get an entire batch of problem interns like this. Some probably do have their own problems they need to sort out to be a productive member of the work force (the one complaining you're "not like Google", for instance), but if all of them are unhappy, then I'm left wondering if there has been some kind of policy change that has triggered it. Can you think of any policy changes around the time this started? I could see this happening if the nature of the work has changed, either because of how it's been assigned or if some burdening requirement was added. – jpmc26 May 9 '15 at 20:03
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    As someone who came up through helpdesk and is now a senior network engineer, if I had hire/fire on these interns I would have no qualms about firing those who are clearly not doing the work. Do they want to learn about providing IT support or not? If so, this is it!. If not, everyone's time (and the organization's money) is being wasted. I've never had a job where I get to work on IT projects I like on company time. i learn extra stuff that interests me on public transportation and during my lunch break, even with 18 years experience. – Todd Wilcox May 10 '15 at 6:44
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I see one huge issue in your approach:

We are a local gov't organization, who gets batches of Interns to help with specific help desk. ... If they have extra time, they can choose to help us with tasks for extra work experience and enrichment.

Help desk work is their primary assignment. If they clear their tickets, then they can do something interesting?

The problem there is that they don't have any control over their tickets. The quantity and effort of each ticket is "luck of the draw." They never know if they're going to do something interesting or not.

You should, in my opinion, allocate time for each task. Set 60% of their time for help desk, 10% for mentoring, and 30% for personal development work. By that, I mean assigning them a work-related task squarely in their area of interest that actually makes a perceivable difference in production.

From an intern's point-of-view, now, they have no idea if they're going to come in to a pile of tickets that will tie them up all day, or maybe get to do something interesting.

One cannot ask point blank, "ok, what are you interested in?"

You most certainly can, and should. That's how you're going to know what personal development tasks to give them. Get 3 or 4 answers from them on that. You're not going to have opportunities in every area, but you should be able to find some common ground if your internship program is done well, at all.

Supervisor is dealing with writing Interns up, etc.

Seriously? You expect a college student to be worried about being "Written up?" Unless they did military first, these are kids just barely out of their parents' homes (and part-time, at that). They really don't care about "Write-Ups." They're looking to define their place in the world, and you've told them their place is "Help desk."

Recommendations:

  • Start allocating time to different areas, explaining that the support tickets are the "drudge work" that we all have to do, but absolutely guarantee time for their development, too.
  • Don't "exile" them to the support desk. Work it with them. If they see that valuable team members do this job, they'll not see themselves as de-valued. Besides, everybody, including the chief architect, needs to pull a shift on 1st-level support now and then (my opinion).
  • Admit that what you had before was the wrong way to go. You say to a kid, "You know, you're right. Let's re-think this together," just once, and they'll have respect for you. Then you have something to build on.

My opinion only - your mileage may vary.

  • Now these are very good recommendations. I'll suggest to my supervisor that their timings should be allocated accordingly, i.e. some HD, some mentoring, some personal development. I'm even thinking to the extent that if we don't have any interesting IT work for them, then they can pursue some interesting IT work on their own. – Glowie May 9 '15 at 17:20
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    "The problem there is that they don't have any control over their tickets." This is a fact of IT support. It's very hard to find a job in IT where you are not at some level of help desk, and when a help desk call comes in or is escalated to you, you drop the fun server or network work and you take it! That's the job! The only person in the entire IT department at the governmental organization where I work who never takes a ticket is the CTO. I've been doing this for 18 years with tons of certifications and I never know if I will get to do something interesting or not. Why would anyone? – Todd Wilcox May 10 '15 at 6:51
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    @ToddWilcox The way I understand it, answering help desk tickets is not what the company's main focus is. Interns join this company to learn and gain experience in the field the company is active. It is understandable that they are frustrated when they realize that they are only given the work that the regular employees do not want to do because it is dull and distracts from doing the actual job. In order to make this a learning experience, it is IMHO essential to make sure that interns spend a certain amount of their time working on "fun" things. – Chris May 10 '15 at 14:02
  • @Wesley Long - this post gave me the 10% IT project idea for Interns who have their hearts in the right place – Glowie May 10 '15 at 18:34
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    @ToddWilcox - I believe you don't understand what an internship is. It's not slave labor. It's supposed to be a learning / mentoring experience. I'm actually surprised that the University has allowed this program to continue. Hopefully Sonihal will be able to make some of the changes he is enthused about, now. – Wesley Long May 11 '15 at 0:12
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Read this answer and take some time to self-reflect about the quality of your management of this program. Frankly from what you are writing here it sounds like your program is terribly mismanaged and has unrealistic expectations and overly demanding/confrontational managers. My assumption is most of your interns think your program is terrible.

Also, we strategically set the times to be just after they are scheduled to come in. If they are 15 minutes late to this meeting, we won't reschedule.

This is childish, really? Really? You actually do this, and wonder why people aren't motivated?

You guys need to have some frank discussions about how the interns you get perceive you. It's likely they are going to complain to their University about mismanagement and poor treatment, which will be a far worse situation than what you have currently.

  • In my organization they are so insistent upon time, showing to work on time. We set the meeting half hour after they are supposed to arrive, plus give 15 minute leeway. But yes, I can see how mismanagement causes things to spiral downwards. – Glowie May 9 '15 at 18:32
  • And I really like the link you posted ..... I wish we are able to do some monthly luncheon for interns, just for morale boost .... something I can also being up to management. – Glowie May 9 '15 at 18:33
  • @Sonihal and some of it will be cultural. If your interns have friends who are having great experiences, they will dislike their current job. If those friends are currently unemployed then it'll be easier for them to basically be cheap labor. – enderland May 9 '15 at 20:55
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    So what do you recommend doing with employees who are habitually 45+ minutes late to work? – David Richerby May 10 '15 at 11:48
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    @DavidRicherby that's when management has give warnings, see what issues are there before deciding to use a heavy hammer. – Glowie May 10 '15 at 16:27
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If you have a bad batch of interns the easiest way to deal with this is to fire the worst one(s). You are allowing them to walk all over you. There is a good chance that this attitude started with a couple of bad apples in the program.

These bad apples might have left a long time ago but their carry over attitude and dissension has been passed down to your current group. They think there is a "fun" or "exciting" task that awaits them yet management isn't letting them do it.

It is really really simple. Start firing them. If they are late for meetings, have a poor attitude, don't come to work, whatever - quickly discard of them. These aren't long term employees and should be treated like someone on probation.

And here is the thing. This isn't like "let's talk about this" or "let's give them a stern warning" type of thing. You start with the threats and you just got intern drama. This is a "Hey, John, sorry you were late for the meeting. We also noticed issues with your tickets. We don't need your services as an intern anymore."

Think of this attitude as a disease. You have two options with the disease. Put the people infected so far away (fired) that they can't infect anyone or be absolutely sure that they are cured. If you have 10 interns I can't tell you how many you need to fire. I would start with my worst offenders. If your company has a policy (mine doesn't for interns) I would simply call them into your office and say "Next time X, Y, or Z happens we will let you go. We have had issues with this. Thanks." This conversation is completely optional for companies with no firing policy with interns.

Once you get rid of your first 1-2 the others will either fall in line or will be pissed. The pissed ones will have an attitude and I am sure it will be reflected in their job. Fire them next. If you have 10 interns you might only need to fire one (doubt it by your question). You might need to fire all 10. You cannot keep hiring interns and introducing them to the poor attitudes.

Also I disagree with some of the other comments/answers. You don't need to change their job. You just need to make sure they understand it coming in. Your job isn't to entertain them, it is to mentor them. Their first real job will probably be much less "fun" than their internship.

(And the worst part of you not handling it this way from the get go has been how it has probably effected your regular staff)

  • to fire the worst one(s), I am afraid it's not that easy. The OP works for a local gov't organization, not a private company. – scaaahu May 10 '15 at 4:35
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    This answer is way too firing-happy. A large part of why I even bother hiring interns is that I hope to convert some of the good ones to full time employees. If I follow the advice of this answer, there's a good chance I'll lose an entire crop of interns, instead of acknowledging the real problems in my intern program and gaining some valuable employees. It's also going to be extremely poor for morale for my FTEs to see me treating interns like garbage. They may "only" be interns, but they're still people. – Chris Hayes May 10 '15 at 5:37
  • @blankip My supervisor has this similar type of approach. He believe it's really one or two bad apples, i.e. the intern who complained about the work, implying we are not like google, plus he's spending lot of time on social media while falling behind on his help desk tickets. The rest of interns may seem a bit too immature (we were all that way once), hence my supervisor wants to see if we can bring out the best in them by these interviews, i.e."what's your IT interest", etc – Glowie May 10 '15 at 16:25
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    @ChrisHayes - I am sorry if it comes off this way. In my answers and in my professional career I have hardly ever suggest firing someone as I think it is the last resort. However these are interns gone wild. And being a govt. job - if it is like my dad's no intern has any union rights until they are a full time employee. Almost half of my interns end up at my company full time (probably company average is 10%). I fully understand what you are saying, but why take even a sliver of a chance on someone with that much attitude for full time govt. (hard to ever fire in future) – blankip May 10 '15 at 18:13
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    @Sonihal - Your supervisor is right. You are spending time worrying about a couple bad apples instead of mentoring the good ones. All the while this is bringing your attitude and team attitude down. Get rid of them as soon as possible. Make it quick and clean and announce it. Then give it a week or two and see how the others are. – blankip May 10 '15 at 18:15

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