Internships are often the launchpad students need to start their careers. But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as companies have navigated choppy economic waters and a shift to remote work, many have dramatically altered or downsized their work-to-learn programs — or cut them altogether.
Finding new talent to support a global tech company
Christine Archer, the global head of SAP’s Internship Experience Program, said that like last year, SAP will be offering virtual internships in summer 2021. SAP prioritizes turning interns into full-time employees and has a goal of hiring at least 50% of its interns each year.
Offering virtual internships has allowed SAP to reach students who might not have otherwise been located near an SAP office or been able to relocate to be near one . Internships as virtual experiences also reduces the pressure interns may feel amidst vaccine rollouts and changing COVID-19 guidelines to come work in person.
According to Archer, SAP employs more than 110,000 people worldwide and in a regular year hires nearly 4,000 interns, with 900 coming onboard stateside. As a forward-thinking tech company, she said SAP was already familiar with remote work models, so the pivot to remote work for employees was not as difficult for it. Still, doing internships virtually has presented a unique change of direction.
Offering an impactful virtual experience without having interns succumb to Zoom fatigue has been a challenge, but Archer believes that some good has come out of the experience. Virtual internships have leveled the playing field in terms of access for interns from colleges and universities that are less represented.
“With COVID, we’ve realized that it really does make everything more equitable,” she said.
When internships were pushed to the background for many companies in 2020, Kepler Group’s director of marketing analytics, Michael Kania, knew something had to be done to help students still looking for internships during the pandemic. He assembled the 2020 Philly Startup Sprint, a two-week virtual program designed to give college students a level of the experience that they would have received in an internship.
A year later, Kania plans on bringing it back for a second iteration after being impressed with how last year’s Sprint turned out.
The Sprint helped prepare students for a professional future that will most likely involve remote and virtual work and professional environments. While Kania was proud of the impact the program had in its first year, he hopes that another edition could be featured during fall semesters or winter breaks to provide students with opportunities year round.
“I don’t think opportunities are limited only in the summer,” he said. “I would love for it to be available in the fall or winter break for students. There’s a constant need for professional development in the Philly area.”
Creating a career-agnostic program is a top priority for Kania, and this year’s iteration will feature different speakers, a different agenda and new training.
Sharing new tools for success
Festo Okidi, the youth workforce development nonprofit’s director of partnerships for employment pathways, said he considers employers to be in a better place now. At that time, employers were still trying to understand how to keep their core businesses intact and support their existing employees remotely. Recruiting interns became less of a priority as employers navigated the tumult that came with the pandemic.
“The toolkit gives them a resources to think about, design and implement a summer or workplace program,” he said. “We want to put something in people’s hands to [show] it is possible to do this.”
Employers need to understand how to educate young people on ways to use that technology to accomplish professional tasks, for instance. The remote work skills developed during the pandemic directly reflect the future of work.
As for other benefits, Okidi said virtual internships can eliminate spatial concerns employers may face in bringing interns in to work at an office. And virtual internships allow professionals to practice their supervisory and communication skills in a new way — which is especially important when working with interns and other new or junior employees.