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Business internships post-pandemic could go virtual, on-site or both

Jody Fisher, vice-president of public relations for Austin

Jody Fisher, vice-president of public relations for Austin Williams of Hauppauge. Credit: Austin Williams

Many internship opportunities at companies were canceled last summer during the height of the pandemic and the ones that remained were largely virtual.

This summer, as recovery continues, more than 40% of employers are planning to hold hybrid internship programs - a blend of virtual and in-person experiences, while more than a third will hold a program still exclusively virtual, according to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

"The hybrid environment for interns will look much like it does for the general employee population," says Shawn VanDerziel, executive director at NACE, a nonprofit professional association made up of HR campus recruiting and college career services professionals. That means, for example, they may be asked to come into work two or three days a week and be virtual the remainder of time, he says.

It’s not surprising though some companies will still opt to do exclusively virtual, he says, noting they can pull from a larger pool of talent nationwide and after the world went remote last year "companies feel confident that internships can be done successfully in a remote environment."

Advantages of hybrid

Hybrid offers the opportunity for a hands-on experience while still offering some remote flexibility. It also follows the changing work dynamic at companies, say experts.

"If I hired an employee it would be hybrid too," says Paul Trapani, co-founder of PassTech Development in Plainview, a software development and consulting company and president of LISTnet, a tech advocacy group. "I just think that’s the norm for industries that allow it."

He has a computer science intern starting in June from Hofstra University who will be assisting both LISTnet and PassTech and working both in the office and virtually.

That’s also the case for Austin Williams, a Hauppauge-based ad and digital marketing agency, which will have interns working under a hybrid model, says vice president of public relations Jody Fisher.

The firm didn’t have interns last summer due to the shutdown and the office being fully remote. Starting July 6, employees will be in-person Tuesday through Thursday and remote Mondays and Fridays, Fisher says.

There will be three interns this summer also following that schedule, he says.

Jonathan Ivanoff, associate director for Internships at Adelphi University in Garden City, says right now a majority of employers are following the hybrid model for summer internships, but a growing number of employers are asking if they can have interns 100% in-person on-site.

In those cases, Adelphi will post the opening and leave it up to the student to decide if they want to be fully in-person, he says, noting some industries lend themselves to being fully on-site.

For example, East/West Industries Inc., which designs and manufactures aircraft seats and aircrew life support systems, will have interns on-site this summer as it did last summer, says president Teresa Ferraro.

The firm had an intern engineering student from the University of Delaware last summer on-site, and with a new alliance with Longwood School District last summer, got a graduating senior from the high school, says HR manager Trish Romano.

The program was for graduating seniors who didn’t have plans after graduation to attend college, she says. The alliance worked well and East/West ended up hiring that person as an assembler in their oxygen lab, where they make oxygen systems Navy pilots use on F-18’s and T-45’s, says Ferraro.

"It’s been a great experience," says Chloe Cabral, 19, who says she’s always liked to use her hands and build things but was unsure of what she wanted to do after graduating Longwood High School last June.

She started her internship in July 2020 and was offered a full-time position in August 2020.

She says being on-site last year was welcome after doing school remotely.

"The vast majority of students want to get out and be on-site," Ivanoff says. They recognize being on-site provides them "with a great deal of experiences and learning," he says.

Making the hybrid model work

But there are also ways to make the virtual/hybrid model work.

Communication is key, says Jerilyn Marinan, director of career planning and development at SUNY Old Westbury, who also advised to decide upfront the means of virtual communication (i.e. phone, email, Slack, Zoom etc.) that your company will have with your interns.

Clearly articulate expectations, deadlines, and deliverables early on because in Marinan’s experience with internal virtual interns at the college, students are completing deadlines and sending projects through various technical platforms outside the typical 9-5 pm window.

Regular check-ins with "structured conversations" are important, says VanDerziel. Also be sure to include them in meetings and find ways to share your culture with them, he says. "Students are like employees," he says. "They want to know they’re working with good people and connect with the organization in a real meaningful way."

Fast Fact:

Last summer, 72% of the employers who had an internship did so virtually. Results were positive with the percentage of interns ultimately hired rising from 55% in 2019 to 66% in 2020. That could be for a variety of reasons including employers anticipating a challenging job market given the pandemic.

Source: NACE

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