COVID-19: Summer internships aren't going away, but they may look very different this year

The coronavirus quarantine has impacted US summer internships, which are instrumental in establishing a career after graduation.

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Traditionally, coveted summer internships involve shadowing a seasoned professional mentor, guide, and liaison who introduces the intern to a professional environment. Internships apply the reality to concepts outlined in textbooks. With restrictions in place because of the coronavirus pandemic, remote work is the norm, so nearly all internships are, too.

COVID-19, and its communicable and potentially deadly characteristics still pose a safety concern that is reflected in the dramatic decline (52%), from March 9 to April 13 in internship opportunities, according to data from economic-research company Glassdoor. It reported the pandemic has had a near-instant impact on US internship hiring.

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Glassdoor cites hiring interns for April 2020 fell 39% compared to April 2019. From the March 9 start of the study, internship opportunities took a downturn.

The invaluable internship experience

There's no question regarding the value and effect internships have. Glassdoor's study found those who completed an internship, reported it being "very or extremely valuable to their career." Positions in the company are often offered to interns: 40.3%, were hired by an employer for whom they previously interned.

Industries most and least affected by COVID-19

All industries have experienced a decline: Popular and considered-fun internships in the travel and tourism industry were hit hardest, garnering 92% dip. Information technology internships were second with a 76% decline, followed by media and publishing, down 62%.

The smallest drop (22%) were positions in accounting and legal. The most internship openings are in accounting and legal, manufacturing, computer software and hardware, retail, healthcare, and hospitals.

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Internships still exist

Despite the drop, there are summer internships. Most businesses, even pre-pandemic, make course-credit mandatory, so a semester carries the same weight as other courses in the students' majors.

Going 100% in

PwC continues its summer intern program: In the US and Mexico, PwC has 3,500 interns annually. 

"Interns and entry-level hires are critical," said Rod Adams, PwC's talent acquisition leader for the US and Mexico. "It's very important we do right by them." In early April, PwC made internships in the US and Mexico 100% virtual. 

PwC's internship is expected to transition "seamlessly" into a virtual one, Adams said. There are two intern sessions, one starting on July 13, and the other on July 27. PwC offers an MBA, as well as "advance," and "start" internship programs. 

"We'll extend full-time associate offers for 2021, or later as appropriate, to all eligible interns," Adams said. For MBA interns who work "as current staff," Adams said, "full-time offer decisions will be made at the end of the internship."

The internships "took a lot of careful planning to re-design," Adams said. All interns have a "coaching team" and "cohort" to stay connected daily. Interns can access PwC's suite of digital assets, including online collaboration tools and learning modules that prepare them for success at PwC.

The virtual internship for the win

Bloomberg: "We are moving to a 100% virtual internship this summer," said Kristen Galgano, engineering campus recruitment team lead, and added those developing the program will ensure it's still a fun, challenging, and interactive program."

Cowbell Cyber: The cybersecurity company had already transitioned winter interns to telecommuting. Some "functions make the remote on-boarding process more challenging," said Isabelle Dumont, vice president of market engagement at Cowbell Cyber. "Ongoing checkpoints have made working from home successful." Daily communication is encouraged. Interns participate in required weekly plan reviews, and bi-weekly status checks."

CrowdStrike: The cybersecurity company is "currently coming up with creative ideas to keep engineering interns engaged and connected with other employees," said Alexis Neville, vice president of talent acquisition, CrowdStrike. Interns will have a one-on-one meeting weekly with managers, and participate in weekly group coffee chats. CrowdStrike's interns will be based throughout the US, the UK, Romania, Sydney, and India.

GlossGenius: The NYC-based business management company has team members worldwide, so GlossGenius is "familiar with virtual onboarding and the best practices of working remotely," said Liz Cruzat, director of talent. It's "a great place to support interns," she said, who will each have a mentor, to "ensure they maximize their time with us." 

Healthline: The publishing company's internship will be a hybrid, part in-office and part WFH, said Steve Swasey, vice president of communications at Healthline. He added that they will be more dependent on Zoom and virtual meetings.

Jamf: Jamf, an Apple enterprise management firm, "moved our entire global workforce to remote within 24 hours without missing a beat," said Amy Rennock, vice president of human resources. Jamf has a designated team that ensures consistency, regardless of the specific function, department, manager or location of the internship. Rennock said, "We handle interns with an additional layer of special handling and care," because for many, " it's their first professional" experience.

KnowBe4: Execs from the security awareness training company consulted with all departments, to be sure they were on board with (mostly) virtual internships. "Security can be challenging [working virtually], but all areas running interns came up with ways to make it happen," said Erika Lance, senior vice president of people operations, KnowBe4.

NetApp: NetApp "is excited to continue offering the long-standing summer internship program amid the coronavirus pandemic," said Justin Tomlin, human resource program manager at the cloud data-service company. "In the 'Intern Program Leadership Team,' interns build networks, develop skill sets, deliver true impact, and immerse in NetApp's collaborative culture."

New Relic: The cloud-based platform company closely monitored COVID-19 updates, said Cristin Rigney, senior recruiter, campus programs at New Relic, which didn't want "interns at risk." Rigney said, "We considered some interns would be relocating to cities where they didn't know anyone, and we didn't want them facing that isolation for three months. We wanted to empower them to take care of their emotional and physical health during this uncertainty." New Relic "wants interns to be fully immersed and walk away with a true sense of what it's like to be a full-time employee in their role."

Phone2Action: Ximena Hartsock, co-founder of Phone2Action, said the company will follow guidelines for WFH, but if the office is "opened-up," internships will be based at the office and adhere to social distancing. This will be easier this summer, Hartsock said, because this year, they have 10 summer interns and not the usual 30. Previously, Phone2Action internships were very activity- and event-focused, said Hartsock. "We will likely replace all with virtual events."

ServiceNow: The digital workflow company welcomes 360 summer interns in May, who will work remotely with staff, and receive full benefits. The internship was created to give students "purpose-built activities," which provides "as much great work experience as they would've gotten on campus," said Pat Wadors, chief talent officer, ServiceNow.

Vectra: CEO Hitesh Sheth strongly supported a virtual internship program, said Woody Garrett, director of talent acquisition at Vectra, a cybersecurity company. The team concluded that an internship would most be successful with a "customization," dependent on department, and manager, with the latter providing interns with "constructive feedback." Vectra's undergrad and grad students this summer are from MIT, University of Texas at Austin, Mission College, and Stanford.

Waters Communications: As a virtual agency, "we always knew the internships we offered would be virtual," said founder Declan Waters, who added, "We use video conferencing over Zoom, Skype and Otter.ai to stay connected, and also to evaluate whether the intern has the right skill set for various levels of exposure with clients. Are they articulate? Can they conduct themselves with professionalism consistently?" Interns are assigned to clients and have exposure to projects and  assignments, and learn about collaboration working with teammates.

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About the status of summer internships overall, PwC's Adams said, "We are identifying ways for our interns to connect and network with their fellow interns, as well as develop relationships with partners and staff within our firm."

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