You might already turn to student interns when you need inexpensive short-term help to take on otherwise-neglected "back burner" projects or fill in for vacationing employees. But according to three growing companies, interns' potential value can extend far beyond mere convenience:

· They're reliable. Patrick Daw, president of Triad LLC, a $1.4-million third-party administrator in Glastonbury, Conn., says his company's interns are "dedicated, solid, and dependable." And because they regard the sponsoring company as a potential employer, they "want to take the job a step further."

· They allow flexibility. Interns can be moved through a company to pick up slack. So they often end up "knowing more about the overall process than someone who has been here for two or three years doing only one job," says Daw.

· They're potential hires. "We're getting someone in school who wants to be in the industry but doesn't know how to break in," says Dale Vermillion, vice-president of operations at Walter Joseph Communications, a Chicago video-production company. Employers can help promising students develop specific skills before they hire them. Vermillion's company has permanently hired about one-third of the 35 to 40 interns it's had in the past eight years.

· They boost morale. "They rejuvenate the staff," says Vermillion. "It's a young, eager mind that pumps everyone up by asking questions. You get used to what you're doing, and then there's a new, lively person who's in total awe of everything you say and do."

· Internship programs can benefit employees. Mycogen, a $120-million San Diego agricultural biotechnology company, has established summer internships for its employees' college-age children. "It allows us to keep things moving" when employees take their summer vacations, says director of corporate communications Mike Sund. But, he adds, "the biggest benefit is what it does between parent and child."

-- Robina A. Gangemi

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Human-Resources Interns with a Kick
Triad LLC locates interns through the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP), based in Brookfield, Wis. The nonprofit educational association screens college sophomores for internships in the human-resources area. After anteing up a $2,000 participation fee, sponsoring companies pay students an hourly wage (averaging $7 to $12 an hour). Interns work for two consecutive summers while attending nine full-day IFEBP educational seminars. The sponsoring companies are invited to send employees to the seminars with the student. Through the intern, companies also have access to the IFEBP's library, publications, and conferences. For more information, contact the IFEBP at 414-786-6700.

-- R.A.G.