Moving Internships Online Amid Pandemic

Moving Internships Online Amid Pandemic

As companies begin to rethink their internship commitments amid the ongoing economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, the leader of a company that specializes in pairing college students and companies for short-term micro-internships believes firms should consider moving their internship programs online instead of canceling or curtailing them.

Jeffrey Moss, the founder and CEO of Parker Dewey, says his firm has developed best practices in the areas of remote, project-based experiences between companies and students over the past five years that can allow for internships to continue – albeit in a different form – despite the impacts of the virus. The company provides project templates matched to job descriptions, custom employee portals and other content and resources for managers, interns and other employees designed to help facilitate a remote internship that replicates many of the benefits of a traditional in-person program.

“There has been a worldwide disruption in the workplace, but summer internship programs don’t need to stop,” Moss says. “We’ve found that by ‘unbundling’ the workload of a traditional internship into discrete projects, interns working remotely can have an engaging experience that best prepares them to launch their careers upon graduation.”

The micro-internships that Parker Dewey specializes in may appeal to firms that need to scale back their traditional intern programs in light of the economic ramifications of the ongoing pandemic, providing both creative solutions to project work and insight on potential new hires. Students still get a chance to show off their skills and capabilities, while the business gets much-needed work completed on a project basis and gets to see exactly what those students have to offer.

Many projects last for as little as two weeks (with students paid at completion of the task), while some longer internships may be broken into smaller segments with students paid at various stages throughout the project. The micro-internships are done remotely, with students working nights and weekends to meet deadlines – a situation that mirrors the reality of what is happening throughout most companies’ full-time workforces right now. While an online internship may deprive students and businesses of the chance to build the in-person relationships and rapport of a traditional in-person program, they can still offer crucial benefits to both sides of the arrangement.

As an example, one organization’s lead generation project through Parker Dewey involved hiring interns to source leads and provide insight about why certain leads were or were not good prospects. With the help of the interns, the project not only led to more than 1,000 new leads, the insights from the interns gave the organization a clear idea of the skills and capabilities each brought to the table.

Moss notes that while a recent study found that only 5% of companies have canceled their summer internships thus far, the current uncertainty may put more programs on the chopping block in the coming weeks as firms look to slash costs. But given how well many of these companies are adapting quickly to remote workforces, he believes they should think about applying the same principles to their upcoming internship plans.

Best Practices for Remote Internships     

A recent whitepaper from the Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison offered the following best practices for companies to consider when establishing a remote or virtual internship:

Before the start of the virtual internship, take the time to select and test the right software for managing the work, train staff on the new software/systems, develop a written workplan for the intern (including training materials, activities and tools) and clearly define expectations for both the intern and the supervisor/mentor.

  • Because the intern will not have the opportunity to have the everyday interactions of the workplace, be sure that all materials, instructions and task descriptions are well prepared and available online.
  • Make sure supervisors engage the rest of their teams in the delivery of the virtual internship experience, thus giving the intern an opportunity to interact with several individuals throughout the course of the experience.
  • Design the internship to be a well-balanced experience that includes the opportunity for the intern to learn about the organization, focus on professional development and engage in meaningful projects and work that will help develop their overall ability to become a valuable team member in the future.