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Organizations Forced to Innovate with Summer Internships

As the month of May comes to a close, this is usually the time many college students are leaving their campuses and flocking to a business near you for their summer internships.



This year, of course, is far from usual. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted business across the globe, forcing layoffs, furloughs and all forms of cost cutting. For organizations in desperate need of saving on cost, providing paid internships likely won’t make the cut.

A report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) and Ripplematch found that 12% of companies have cancelled their internship programs outright. Innovative students at Arizona State University created the website, which uses crowdsourced information from more than 500 employers to determine what companies are still offering internships. The data indicates about a third of the internship programs have been cancelled; large employers like Geico, Yelp and Walt Disney Company fall into this category.

However, for the organizations that are moving forward with their summer internships, many are mapping out a new model: remote internships. The NACE and Ripplematch survey found that nearly half (46%) of companies surveyed have converted their on-site internship programs into remote ones, further signaling the teleworking shift many businesses are already undergoing.

While the in-person experience of an internship will still be valuable going forward, if these companies are able to implement successful remote internships, it could change the landscape. However, there are various challenges they’ll encounter.   

Some of these companies are shipping interns technology hardware and other essentials, while others are setting up students with software on their own personal computers. This is an obvious and preliminary step for organizations. However, figuring out how to adapt internships usually catered toward the in-person experience for full effect is the biggest challenge.

“A chemical engineer, for instance, may not get much out of an engineering internship program if there’s no lab work. Some companies are moving away from discrete tasks for interns and toward group-based projects, said Sam Seehra, Korn Ferry’s head of early careers and next-generation talent for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. “Doing that may try to replicate some of the interactions interns would normally get with full-time employees, and their intern colleagues, in a workplace setting.”

Korn Ferry cited examples of companies completely altering the structure of their internship program to adjust to a remote setting. One organization that expected to give students door-to-door sales experience has designed a program to train them how to do prospect research and demand forecasting. Others have just torn up their programs and are restarting from scratch. One tech firm had been relying on giving its interns supply chain-related work but found it impossible to do with students unable to go to company factories physically. So, the firm created a leadership development program interns could do while they worked remotely.

Microsoft, which announced it has more than 4,000 interns this year, said it will host “remote events that focus on building connections, fostering learning, and empowering interns to achieve their goals and uncover their passions. Participants in the program will connect with one another, build community within their teams, and engage with senior leaders across the company through a variety of virtual events.”

Health insurance provider, Humana, told USA Today that its focusing on developing emotional intelligence with its interns. The program will include training in virtual classrooms where interns learn the basics of health care; the classes will also help students develop both their intellectual and emotional intelligence, as well as their ability to work with others.

One concern from these new virtual internships is that some students could get lost in the shuffle in an online-only experience. Many organizations, such as eBay, said they plan to combat that with weekly check-ins with interns.

Some companies have navigated the terrain with most, if not all, of their employees working remotely. While this might not affect productivity, it most likely affects engagement for companies that rely heavily on their in-office experience and amenities to build their culture. The same challenge exists for employers trying to convey their culture to their summer interns. Office parties, break rooms, game rooms, etc. are rendered useless as selling points to these future job candidates when they aren’t in the office.

Seehra noted that this too is an opportunity for companies to get creative with their programs.

“Some firms are trying to re-create the cultural aspects of the programs virtually,” Seehra said. “TED Talks-style presentations, social media meetups, and even social hackathons are now on the menu.”




Amazon Launches Virtual Internships for Students in India
Amazon has launched a virtual internship program for students in India as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown in the country. The internship is being conducted with the aim of sharpening leadership skills and innovative talent of the students.

Another Casualty of COVID-19: Summer Internships
This piece by The New York Times details various examples of college students who had their summer internships cancelled by companies amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The article also explains how some students have been shifted to a remote internship and what effect that might have on the overall experience.

Scrambling to Make Virtual Internships Work
Large aerospace and defense companies are scrambling to make sure their summer interns are still available to do work, even remotely. The industry has long relied on internships to help build its hyper-specialized workforce, writes Marcus Weisgerber of the Government Executive. Most interns who successfully complete their short stint at a company are offered a full-time job.

Goldman Sachs Deploying Virtual Internships
Goldman Sachs is one of many Wall Street operations that decided to move its summer internship program entirely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This Financial News article explains that the bank is looking for ways to ensure engagement, mentorship and relationship-building. Among the ideas are virtual townhalls with Goldman Sachs leaders, virtual roundtables and an in-house newsletter.

About the Author

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Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.

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