Summer Internship Programs Are Going Virtual—Is Yours?

Just 30% of employers are moving forward with on-site internships as planned.

A new series of surveys by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) is showing a steady trend toward virtual internships for college students during the summer.

NACE, which began polling employers in March, reports that at the outset, 90 percent of employers surveyed were planning to move forward with their internship programs unchanged. By the end of March, that number dropped to 74 percent. April’s results thus far indicate a sea change: Just 30 percent of employers are moving forward with their on-site internships as originally planned.

Now, 36 percent report that their internship programs will go virtual this summer—a significant leap from the 2.4 percent that indicated this intention during the last week of March.

And the mode of internship is not the only thing changing. 35 percent are planning to delay their internship programs’ start dates, and 18 percent said they are reducing the number of internships available—both virtually and on site.

The opportunity for employers

If you’re an employer wondering what to do with your summer internship program in light of coronavirus-related closures, you’re far from alone. Companies everywhere are wrestling with these and other decisions that will affect their business for years to come. No amount of positive thinking can change the reality that this is a setback—but approached rightly, it can also become an opportunity.

Moving your internships online will train not just interns, but also your seasoned staff to adapt in this brave new world of remote work. Your ability to evolve as a company will be put to the test as you introduce interns to a workplace that is changing daily. It’s not going to be easy, but it can set the stage for growth.

The capacity to grow expands in the midst of uncomfortable circumstances, never when it’s simply business as usual. Online internships are an opportunity for your team to establish a new normal. Coronavirus may be forcing your hand a little sooner than you had planned, but the remote workplace was always inevitable. Embrace it, adapt to it—and thrive.

The opportunity for interns

So your internship just went virtual—now what? Even if you can’t show up in person, you can still show up—ready to learn, work and grow as a professional. With many predicting that the future of work after the pandemic will be remote, a virtual internship can be a bootcamp for the skills you’ll need—communicating effectively, operating as part of a team, meeting deadlines, asking for help, and more—for the rest of your career. 

This is an opportunity to develop your professionalism. Keep your workspace clean, organized and well lit. Whatever the office dress code is, follow it. You’ll not only look the part during video meetings, but you’ll also give yourself a psychological advantage, set boundaries for others in your home, and increase your productivity.

Flexibility will also be your ally. Chances are, the company is scrambling to translate your in-person internship to a virtual experience that has value both for you and for the organization. The experience may not be perfect, but you can make it better by being adaptable.  

Embracing the new virtual workplace

The rise of the virtual internship is not just an opportunity for young people to beef up their remote-work skills. It’s a proving-ground for companies to embrace the new virtual workplace and take remote productivity to the next level.

So throw open those (virtual) doors and welcome the interns of 2020. We’ll all be learning the ropes together.

April 15, 2020

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