Intern Programs: Important Considerations for the Future of Your Talent Pipeline

April 6, 2020 Katrin Razzano

Are you deliberating what your next steps should be for your internship programs as the coronavirus crisis (COVID-19) continues? After combing through reports, articles and blogs related to this topic, this TechCrunch observation sums up the current intern situation well: “Internship cancellations hurt more than just summer plans. The programs are often pipelines into future jobs and access to valuable work experience.”

As a Talent Mobility or HR leader who works closely with recruiting and workforce planning cross-functional partners, you know how important the intern programs are in the ‘war on talent.’ Together, you must decide what the best strategy is for your intern program in the context of social distancing, and there are many viewpoints to consider.

Fortunately, some companies are already adjusting to online, or virtual, programs. So, to help you in your decision-making process, we have compiled a brief list of things to consider that are shared in leading online publications, in virtual client roundtable discussions, as well as from our own account managers and Mobility Strategy colleagues who interact with clients daily. 

This article also includes ways to help you stay connected to your talent pipeline when hiring resumes to more normal levels following the coronavirus pandemic. Millennials and early Gen-Z’ers make up a large portion of interns, and they bring unique skills and traits to your organization that are also worth considering.

 

Business Considerations for Your Internship Programs

As you would expect, several large tech companies are taking decisive steps as they relate to their own internship program. Read more about how one is making the switch to virtual internships in this informative Business Insider article. 

We also understand that what’s right for some companies may not be the right answer for your business. Consider these four questions when thinking about cancelling or switching to a virtual model:

1. Can your company’s internship program be converted to a remote model relatively quickly?

If so, can your company ensure or assist with the logistics of devices and bandwidth to enable a consistent virtual experience, and does the size of the program need to be calibrated for the virtual context? With Zoom, Microsoft Teams or other online conferencing tools, you’ll need to evaluate if all or some of the planned content and activities are effective in the virtual setting.

2. Are your interns able to create their own projects that are directly related to their degree or career goals without having to go to a physical space?

Perhaps one of the bright spots during this pandemic crisis are the creative ways that people are solving problems. Interns are no different. They can add value by taking on virtual tasks or projects that could be done easily online, like data entry, analysis and reporting; conducting online surveys or research; writing or editing website content; even becoming an online critic or blogger for a range of topics or trends. Let your business and creativity dictate the intern programs that are right for your organization.

3. If your internship program is canceled or put on hold until the COVID-19 crisis subsides, can your company retain and continue to build relationships with the targeted talent?

Evaluating the impact of losing your talent pipeline over the next summer, or longer, is a critical component of your decision and can have lasting impact on recruiting top talent down the road. On one hand, canceling programs could possibly sever ties and relationships to top-tier talent from reputable schools, but may be a necessity from a budget perspective. However, if virtual programs are developed that meet your business objectives and satisfy the intern’s requirements, you can minimize the loss of your talent pipeline and regain momentum once the hiring function gets back to full strength.

One relationship-building exercise that comes to mind is to provide mentorship programs. They can either be for a fixed time period or over several years. The company could also sponsor time, data, or funds toward research, whitepapers, or other extended projects.

4. How are the ramifications of intern housing weighing on your decision?

For many companies, intern housing commitments were secured as far back as last fall. Dorms or corporate housing were reserved, and if they are canceled, fees or other financial implications could impact your decision of whether to keep your internship program going, or not. And since you have likely established strong relationships with housing vendors, canceling housing could strain those relationships, as well.


The ‘Millennial and Gen-Z Effect’: keeping the talent pipeline flowing—and engaged

Millennials, and now early Gen-Z’ers, who were looking to complete internships to fulfill school obligations for graduation or advance their new career, typically target companies that show that they care about them personally and can help them grow. It’s part of the fabric of their personalities, since many are socially and globally conscious and active in their community, but also extremely tech-savvy.

The unexpected jolt they received following the COVID-19 outbreak—when many well-known companies began canceling their intern programs—is quickly becoming a reality for them. Many nervously await news about their own internships from companies that are still working out their crisis strategy and action plan. During this time of uncertainty, your willingness as a mobility manager and HR influencer to consider or recommend a virtual internship program model to HR leaders reinforces that they’re a valued part of your organization’s structure and future plans.

However, for some businesses, keeping internship programs in place simply isn’t an option. In these circumstances, being transparent and open with interns and their ideas, and keeping them informed of developments as they evolve during a crisis can go a long way in maintaining ties with them. In fact, Forbes provides some helpful tips to interns of “What to do if the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Cancels your Summer Internship”. Obviously, it’s not an ideal scenario, but sharing this type of knowledge and proposing options to help them cope and stay motivated shows that you do care about their well-being. As the ‘war on talent’ intensifies, maintaining open relationships with your interns and their schools is paramount for long-term success.

Regardless of which way you go, and what changes you make to support your business and your intern programs, the landscape for those looking for opportunities this summer and into the future will be drastically different than in years past. Being flexible, understanding, empathetic and creative—and utilizing the virtual tools available to you to adapt in time of crisis and beyond—creates stability in your organization over the long term. Business continuity will likely guide a big part of your decision, but the relationships and talent you retain now will remember the efforts you make and reward you with their loyalty down the road.

 

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