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Interns in the COVID-19 Era

by Addie Linn | Apr 06, 2020

*As you know, things change quickly these days. TeamKC is keeping this blog post updated with information in real time as we learn more about how recruiters are handling interns in the age of COVID-19.

Originally posted on Monday, April 6.

As recruiters and HR pros across the region settle into a “new normal,” a giant question among employers is how to handle the upcoming summer intern season. Are companies canceling, postponing or moving full-steam ahead? 

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve met with 60+ talent acquisition pros and education partners on our Virtual Coffee Chats. Here’s what we’ve learned so far about intern season 2020:

Cancel or Go Virtual?
While for some, canceling the program all together makes the most sense, others worry about the effects dissolving these programs may have on the current and future talent pipeline. Many program leaders are weighing the options, deciphering whether or not it’s worth it. 

A big factor to take into consideration is the value an intern may receive from a virtual internship. Does your company’s program primarily provide opportunities that are only beneficial when experienced in-person such as site visits or special events? Without in-person interaction, will your interns still gain valuable experience or play more of a “task-rabbit” role? What creative ways can you elevate company culture while working from home? 

Should you decide it’s best to cancel, how can you stay in touch with interns? Keeping contact throughout the next school year may be the difference between a new hire and a lost candidate down-the-road. Consider extending a guaranteed 2021 interview to would-have-been interns for relevant positions.

*Update 4/16/20: Approximately 30% of TeamKC’s Virtual Coffee Chat participants reported cancelled intern programs at their companies. Although breaking that news is no easy task, most program leaders have found interns are understanding of the situation and plan to stay in contact with the company. 

For those who press on, the biggest challenge is creating the full experience online. What factors of the internship can be made virtual? Check out this article from NACE on how the top perks of an internship can still be made available. 

When it comes to engineering a virtual Kansas City experience, TeamKC is here to help. Contact Jessica Palm to tap into the TeamKC virtual toolkit.

Pivoting the Program
So you’ve come to the conclusion that the show must go on. What are your options for altering the program to fit current circumstances? Can you delay the start of the program in alignment with stay-at-home orders? Shortening the program from a full 12 weeks to 8 weeks still allows students to gain experience while keeping your talent pipeline warm. Can your interns start the season virtually if necessary? Hosting a virtual orientation might help kick the program off while remaining hopeful for a transition back to the workplace during the summer.

Another option to consider - extending fall or winter internship opportunities. Given the situation, students may be more open to participating in a fall program during their school semesters. Winter break, usually lasting at least four weeks, is also an opportunity to host interns. 

*Update 4/16/20: Should virtual interns be working 40 hours a week? Plugging in remotely for a full work week is a lot for anyone but especially an intern with little work experience. Another factor to keep in mind is the scope of work. Now is the time to be having conversations with intern managers about projects they have lined up. Will it be enough to keep interns busy during the week? Some recruiters are considering cutting back on the amount of hours an intern will work but thinking about benefits like full-time pay.

Managing Interns Remotely
On the bright side, all of this is happening in the year 2020, a time when we have technology at our fingertips that allows us to operate virtually. Did you know that Zoom has the ability to create breakout rooms in a large group of participants? A similar platform used by many companies  to connect is Microsoft Teams. Slack is a group messaging app that allows for different threads of conversation to take place within an organization and emerging stars like help organize team workflow. There’s a whole world of online platforms to help you manage employees remotely. Besides, by the time summer rolls around, you’ll already be a pro. 

*Update 4/16/20: While there’s hope that employees will get back to work at some point this summer, it’s become apparent that interns will need to start remotely. Make sure your technology toolkit is ready and equipped to handle your interns. Now is the time to be deploying any necessary equipment such as laptops, devices, etc.

It’s Up to You
When it comes down to it, each company is unique with varying needs and summer intern programs will take many different forms across the metro in 2020. But, one thing recruiters can all agree on… communication is key. Keeping in touch with confirmed interns and even your potential hires is essential. It’s a good idea to keep them updated on what’s happening and important to be understanding if they pursue another opportunity. 

*Update 4/16/20: Be aware that university career centers are quickly adapting to the effects of the outbreak and are working to keep students and employers connected. Many schools are even dropping internship requirements for graduation and developing resources like virtual career fairs. Reach out to your education contacts to stay plugged in to everything happening “on campus.”

As you’re communicating with interns and other potential hires, be ready to answer the tough questions some candidates are already asking in interviews. What was this company’s response to the initial suggestion of social distancing? How would this company handle layoffs if the scope of work started to diminish? Know that these questions will come up and use them as an opportunity to show off the company’s crisis response and culture.

Regardless of what your program looks like this year, TeamKC is here to help support you in your efforts to attract the best and brightest to KC. 

Connect with TeamKC to learn more about tools and programs accessible to our members.

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