How do you attract young professionals in a pandemic?

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series related to internships and employee recruitment in the era of coronavirus and priorities for HR leaders.

- Advertisement -

In the last five years, 25,000 young professionals have participated in the MyKC Summer Intern Program in the Kansas City, Mo., region–an initiative that, like much of the rest of the world of work, is going to look decidedly different this year.

The program is run by TeamKC, a division of the Kansas City Area Development Council that promotes the region as a destination for talent. About 60 employers in the area participate in MyKC each year, whose interns receive ongoing support and guidance from TeamKC, all in an effort to help young talent stay in the region.

Interns have long been a significant source of talent for employers in the Kansas City region, says Jessica Palm, vice president and lead executive at TeamKC.

Last summer, about 80% of MyKC interns who worked in engineering industries were offered a full-time position after the internship.

While each organization is responsible for its own intern program, TeamKC aims to show interns the value of investing in a career in Kansas City–introducing interns to the city during onboarding, helping them fill out their social calendars and connecting them with other young professionals, all in an effort to sell the region as a future destination.

- Advertisement -

“We help interns learn about the community and all the things they can do so they’re not working on these amazing projects with their companies during the week and then just sitting in on a Friday night watching Netflix,” Palm says.

Inherent in that work has been in-person connections but, as travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders started being instated earlier this year, the organization fanned out to all of its participating employers to explore their strategies and rolled out its own revised MyKC experience in April.

Read all of HRE‘s coronavirus coverage here.

The program is highly adaptive, based on where each employer is–some are working all-remote, others are hybrid and some have started bringing employees back into the office. As such, TeamKC has offered insider’s guides to Kansas City through in-person presentations, Zoom calls and Teams meetings. It’s organized virtual trivia nights for interns as well as staged an outdoor–socially distant–gathering at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

TeamKC sends out a weekly e-blast highlighting both virtual and in-person events, and students can also opt in for text communications, which include ticket giveaways and company-tailored messaging.

Related: How to boost employee experience during crisis

While the shifts have certainly presented challenges for TeamKC, Palm says, there are also unexpected opportunities that have arisen.

For instance, a handful of employers did decide to suspend their intern programs for the year, but worked with TeamKC for a master-class series featuring a range of thought leadership to which interns were able to tune in. Interns have also been able to learn more about other businesses in the area other than where they’re interning, she adds, such as through virtual office tours of participating employers.

Employers moving to virtual internships, however, need to be intentional about design, she adds. For instance, many TeamKC employers have spread onboarding–which may have only taken a day or two in the past–over one or two weeks.

“I think the biggest feedback we’ve heard,” Palm says, “is around the need to break up what those first couple of weeks look like and set expectations for interns. You don’t want to create an entire onboarding experience where you’re asking someone to sit in front of a laptop for eight hours listening to meetings and presentations.”

Avatar photo
Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].