Why Harley-Davidson Is Giving Interns a Free Motorcycle and 12 Weeks to Ride It Across the Country

June 28, 2018

For Americans of a certain generation, Harley-Davidson motorcycles have always defined what it means to be “cool.” Like the stars of the 1969 classic Easy Rider, Harleys evoke a very specific image: long hair, sunglasses, bandannas, and maybe an American flag or two.

But while that nostalgia has served Harley-Davidson well over the years, it could also be causing some new problems for the 115-year-old, Milwaukee-based manufacturer. These days, a Millennial generation that isn’t particularly enthused about motorcycles in general is hurting both the company’s sales and their recruiting efforts. In fact, in January of this year, Harley-Davidson closed its Kansas City plant as shipments of its iconic motorcycles reached a six-year low.

But, the company isn’t throwing in the towel yet. With their new #FindYourFreedom internship launching this summer, Harley-Davidson is taking an outside-the-box approach to student internships by putting social media-savvy students and grads behind the handlebars for 12 weeks—and hoping to reinvigorate both their consumer and employer brands in the process.

Harley-Davidson’s #FindYourFreedom internship gives interns a free Harley they can ride across the U.S.

The median age of motorcycle owners is 47 years old, and though Harley has made some improvements in its demographics, young adults, women, and people of color still make up a minority of owners. And only 6% of those in the 18 to 24 demographic ride motorcycles.

To solve this issue, Haley-Davidson has gone right to the source of the problem: Gen Z and Millennials. To target this age group, Harley has launched its #FindYourFreedom summer internship, which provides 8 college-aged interns with their own Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The company teaches them to ride, then sets them on a 12-week journey across the country, sharing their adventures along the way—and they even get to keep their bike.

Billed as the “ultimate” internship—with no coffee-fetching or office time involved—Harley-Davidson was looking for social media-savvy students and grads willing to share their experiences as they travel the country and attend company events. To prove their chops, candidates were asked to submit a creative, content-based application that describes what “freedom” means to them.

It was a hit: More than 7,500 people applied from more than 30 countries including South Africa, Russia, China, Argentina, France, and Egypt. But, just eight lucky winners were picked. Here’s an example of a submission from one of the winners, Tessa Otto:

The motorcycle makers hope that the new program will not only generate fresh excitement for their internship program and employer brand, but also for the culture of motorcycling in general.

“We’re continuously working to grow the sport of motorcycling,” says Harley-Davidson CEO Matt Levatich. “What better way to engage future riders than to have a whole team of newly trained enthusiasts share personal stories as they immerse themselves in motorcycle culture and community–all while gaining marketable career skills.”

Rethinking the traditional college internship

By reinventing its college internship program, Harley-Davidson hopes to make a lasting cultural change that will provide a much-needed boost to both its employer brand and the excitement that millennials and Generation Z have about riding (and buying) Harleys in general. With that in mind, you want might to take a closer look at your own internship program with an eye to whether a fresh, innovative spin can help you achieve not just one important goal, but a few at once.

*Image from Harley-Davidson

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