Please Don’t Cancel Your Internships

8/03/2020

By Dan Horgan and Marianna Tu 

Over the last three months, COVID-19 has made remote work the norm and forced businesses to adapt to new practices and a rapidly changing market and economy. As organizations have made tough decisions and painful cuts, it is no surprise that internships have been one of the first things to go, with 31% of employers cancelling summer internship programs[1]. With huge strategic shifts taking place almost everywhere, the impulse to cancel these opportunities due to financial concerns or limited bandwidth is natural. However, for those who are able, continuing to offer internships, and even expanding your internship programs during this time will help your company stay strong and healthy.

Here are four reasons why:

  1. Internship programs give your employees a reason to invest more in work. Internships provide management and mentoring experience for employees. This helps them level up, expand their skills, and impart their knowledge to emerging talent, which will contribute to your business in ways you’d never imagine. Though you may fear your employees already have too much on their plates, having interns to guide through the business and lighten their burden of work can significantly improve employee morale.
  2. Internships provide more diverse talent pipelines, which strengthens your business. Without internships, it’s easy to fall on closed network referrals and nepotism in hiring decisions. And in this increasingly globalized world, when your business is made up of people who all think similarly and come from the same background, you develop blind spots and lose the adaptability and creativity which is going to help your company innovate and thrive no matter what happens next.
  3. Internships are critical opportunities to see if there’s a good organizational fit. Companies without internship programs may make costly hiring mistakes for short-term savings and miss out on the perspective and unique skills of next generation workers. For students, internships allow them to explore the unwritten rules of work and other professional practices, which many are systematically excluded from. With 90% of all new post-college roles going to students with internship experience, it’s clear that this opportunity to build skills is critical to having a prepared workforce.[2]
  4. Internships are an engine of economic and social mobility. Many students rely on paid internship experiences to support their education and living costs while also expanding their professional networks and experiences. For organizations with social and philanthropic priorities, your internship program may be important to your values, as well as your business goals, such as keeping employees engaged and nurturing a relationship-centered, inclusive workplace culture.

How to Pivot – Ideas, Options, and Partnerships

Employers are canceling their internship programs for a variety of important and valid reasons. You might be reallocating funding to support COVID-19 response efforts, current employees may be furloughed, or staff reductions might have taken place. You might feel the organization has no capacity to create virtual internship experiences or projects, the projects interns normally help with are experiencing changes, or that interns are just too much work to manage. But if you understand the value of internship programs, and that internships are not a nice thing to do, they’re an imperative business strategy, all of these problems have creative solutions.

Here are some ways you can pivot before cancelling internships:

  • Hold virtual internships. Virtual internships have several advantages, such as being able to pair interns with teams with the most need, versus a geographic fit. Furthermore, the remote work set-up makes deliverables clear and often leads to higher-impact projects, as managers find things they can truly delegate (vs. finding one-off tasks through a day or week). To get the most impact for your company, employees, and students, keep these four critical internship elements in mind: (1) project-based learning, (2) career exploration, (3) building social capital (peers, near peers, mentors, managers), and (4) skill development.
  • Partner with another organization to help run your internship program. Organizations like ours, which directly serve students, help make connections between emerging talent and corporations, but can also help manage and structure internship programs. Through these programs, your new interns can take part in virtual mentorship and other development opportunities that will make them assets to your business.
  • In lieu of a full-internship, consider a shorter project-based learning or volunteer opportunity. Just because you can’t have a three-month, 40-hour a week internship, doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to interact with emerging talent. Some colleges are also offering two or three week “micro-internships” with companies. CoLabl facilitates Career Connections (virtual career mentoring events using four different formats) and the Talent Accelerator (currently being offered pro-bono for employers through August) to provide a spectrum of ways to engage with students, and ANY connects companies and talent through Summer Industry Projects.

Finally, if you just cannot afford to have a formal internship program this year, before cancelling everything, consider alternative ways to open up access. You could start planning for a digital internship program next year, gather your company for a virtual networking event to engage students in your business, or start a volunteer project to connect your employees to the greater community. These kinds of activities can unite your employees, strengthen your brand image and elevate your values in action.

A Word to Internship-Seekers

We want to end with some tips for internship-seekers. It can be hard to adjust when an internship is canceled, but don’t lose hope. We’ve seen some creative ideas to stay on track:

  • Partner with an employer to co-create a virtual internship experience and/or to assist with pivoting in response to COVID-19 – i.e., helping a restaurant navigate to take-out, delivery or meal plans; helping a gym pivot to virtual programming.
  • Identify and secure freelance projects in line with your skills and expertise – check out freelance job boards – a great way to further develop your portfolio and expand your connections with potential future employers or clients.
  • Support a local nonprofit on the front lines of COVID-19 or struggling to bounce back from being significantly impacted – social media campaigns, fundraising efforts, virtual programming, or marketing and website enhancements.
  • In addition, be sure to focus on taking advantage of many free online courses and expand your professional network by engaging in informational interviews in career pathways that interest you most.

The world has changed drastically in the last few months. In order to stay relevant throughout the rapidly changing economic and social reality, employers are under constant pressure to keep their staff focused, engaged, and positive. The value of continuing to invest in internship programs, and channeling the talents of the next generation cannot be understated in helping your company stay healthy, competitive and innovative. We can cancel everything, or we can adapt. The future belongs to those who do the latter.

Learn more about ANY at www.americaneedsyou.org and CoLabL at www.colabl.com.

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