The Value of Internships for HR During COVID-19

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David Rice
07/08/2020

internships

Hiring freezes, furloughs and layoffs have made life more difficult for organizations looking to maintain or expand their operations across the country in recent months, leaving challenges for HR to address with creativity.

In some cases, hiring hasn’t slowed, but actually sped up. But as this has happened, the field of candidates and job seekers has ballooned, making it somewhat more difficult to find the talent needed to fill a given position. There is a potential solution, if handled properly, though not a popular one with jobseekers.

Internships are a valuable tool when it comes to finding new talent, cultivating the types of characteristics needed for a role or to fit a company culture, but they’re often seen as a luxury. A recent poll from the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that the majority of internship providers among its employer members were making changes to their program in some shape or form. For example:

  • 35% are reducing the length of internships
  • 29% are doing them in virtual environments
  • 20% are moving specific aspects of them, such as presentations, online.
  • 15% are reducing the number of interns.

As large swaths of the workforce have moved online, it makes sense that internships will follow, but naturally there is concern over the nature of the work interns will do and how the experience will play out for them being so new to their organizations.

In truth, internships are a low cost method of experimenting for employers looking to revamp onboarding processes, workflows, team building and employee development in the era of COVID forced remote work. With a lower cost of recruitment and less concern over retention, interns may be the best crowd to try out new processes on.

Internship Design

The most important aspect of any internship is the completion of meaningful work. No student with ambition is willing to accept playing secretary working in a mail room anymore and with remote work becoming a necessary part of the experience, getting the team coffee simply isn’t an option.

While those old stereotypes of internships may seem ridiculous, the truth is, having them come into an office environment can be less effective in actually preparing them for the work they’ll have to do once they take on a full time role, be it with the company or somewhere else. Remote work simply doesn’t encourage or even allow the same level of fraternizing or picking up of others bad habits.

Remote internships, in fact, may not need to be as long traditional ones, with an intern assigned specific projects with set deadlines. The remote nature of the work will help them develop accountability, time management and independent problem solving skills that will serve them well when they move into a workforce that is likely still going to be, at least partially, remote in the future.

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If the internship needs to last a full semester, but a single team cannot be saddled with the responsibility of looking after them, HR leaders can look to spread their work across multiple teams that will help develop new skills and work under an assortment of managers so they become accustomed to different leadership styles. You can go as far as making the intern available on an as needed basis for managers whose teams are under increased pressure during Coronavirus. This approach will help the intern gain a holistic understanding of the business and cultivate the flexibility in skills needed of workers during a time such as this.

Finally, if developing an internship for the remote setting is out of the question, there is reason to consider extending the companies online learning resources to internship candidates so they can continue their relationship with the company and learn what kind of educational offerings are available should they choose to seek employment with the organization at a later date.

Remaining Committed

It’s natural to want to commit resources and time to current employees. Focusing on reskilling the current workforce is undoubtedly a priority for everyone and something that should be done, but with the workforce continuing to shift and Baby Boomers retiring at a steady rate, keeping fresh talent with the necessary skills to succeed in the workforce can’t be neglected.

Interns are a valuable tool in developing a committed workforce of new recruits and in the long term can help the company weather the COVID storm. Organizations that do so will be rewarded when they have fewer workforce needs on the other side of the pandemic. Financial services giant Citibank realized this and made a significant commitment to its summer interns for 2020, promising them full time jobs upon successful completion of the internship program.

READ: Coronavirus and the Reemergence of Career Mapping 

“We know that it is an especially trying time for you right now, as you work to finish the semester away from school, removed from your friends and on-campus experiences, and think about the economy and job market you’ll find yourself in after graduation,” said Courtney Storz, Citi’s head of campus talent acquisition in an email to summer interns. “We realize your college experience is going to be quite different than what you planned or imagined. While there are many uncertainties ahead for all of us, we hope that these changes give you a measure of reassurance about your role at Citi and our commitment to you.”

While you may not be able to make similar promises, remaining committed to an effective internship program that will help develop talent for the future should be a priority for talent acquisition teams around the country.

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