Are in-person internships a thing of the past?
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series related to internships and employee recruitment in the era of coronavirus and priorities for HR leaders.
While stay-at-home orders are gradually lifting around the nation, many employers haven’t yet fully transitioned back to in-person operations—and summer internships have been caught in the crosshairs.
“Almost immediately” after stay-at-home orders started being implemented, Hewlett Packard Enterprise sprang into action to “leave no intern behind,” says Alessandra Yockelson, chief talent officer at the global IT company. “It was important to us that we honored every commitment we had made to incoming interns priors to the orders being put in place.”
The organization hires interns across 40 countries, and the process varies by geography; many interns in India had already been onboarded by the time the shutdowns started, while most in the U.S. hadn’t, so the organization had to strategize a range of resources and support.
Ultimately, HPE rolled out a global, all-virtual program for more than 1,500 interns. The format and focus differs according to business lines, but the organization has sought to create a unified experience for all enrolled.
“The programming and camaraderie we’re trying to build for our interns is very intentional,” Yockelson says. “This is the first professional experience most of these students have had, and we want to make it valuable for them.”
To that end, without in-person connections, HPE created “virtual communities” for each segment of interns.
“This is very similar to how we’ve worked to manage the impacts to team members as a whole of the stay-at-home orders,” Yockelson says. “With offices closed and people unable to have the usual face-to-face interaction, we know it takes a toll. We’re social beings by nature.”
HPE designed learning and networking experiences to be as interactive as possible. For instance, interns have been separated into small groups to facilitate relationship-building and have participated in virtual events like trivia contests together. Company CEO Antonio Neri also recently held a Zoom Q&A with nearly 300 U.S. interns.
Prior to their start date, interns were assigned a “buddy,” who has provided virtual mentorship throughout the program.
“Yes, you want regular, frequent formal meetings with both the manager and mentor. But the usual casual chats that happen in an office setting really help to build a comfort level with others, and you can’t have that without reaching out intentionally,” Yockelson says. “So we ask them to do those chats using virtual tools.”
Managing remote interns is a new endeavor for most leaders, so HR worked to coach them, particularly on how to check in often and authentically so interns feel connected to the work and company culture. To measure those efforts, HPE is conducting weekly pulse surveys of interns and their leaders to gauge their experiences—which, so far, have garnered positive feedback, Yockelson says.
She adds that HPE likely will not return to traditional, strictly in-person internships in the future.
“I don’t think we will ever limit ourselves to only offering an on-premises internship experience after this year,” she says. “What COVID has taught us is that team members want flexibility in when and where they work as a means of improving their work/life balance, and that includes interns. Additionally, an experience that is all or partially remote allows us to reach a broader talent pool.”