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Innovation in Internships: Micro and virtual Internships are here

Written by Angela Finding

The Fifth Annual Cleveland Internship Summit was February 27, 2020 at Corporate College East attended by more than 200 business, community, and education representatives. Throughout the year, we will be bringing you highlights covered during the event. Today’s recap focuses on different approaches to internships such as virtual or project-based internships.

We did not know at the Cleveland Internship Summit on February 27, 2020 how quickly employers would begin making plans for micro or virtual internships. Fast forward a few months and employers who were strictly adhering to traditional, 10-12 week, in-person summer internship programs are now making alternative plans. The Innovation in Internships session discussed examples of how some employers and educators have thought outside of the traditional internship model. They are bringing different, yet valuable, workplace learning experiences to their organizations in the form of micro or virtual internships. For them, virtual internships are internships that take place at another location other than the office. Micro internships are short-term projects that provide real-world experience.

Featured panelists Sygi Berman with Sherwin Williams; Tim Marshall with Baldwin Wallace University (BW); and Ethel Vinson with FedEx Custom Critical started the conversation by sharing why they started looking at ways to expand internships and student experiences. For the two employers, the “why” for them was clear, to expand how they recruit, retain, and develop talent, and to continue to grow their talent pipeline. To add to their talent strategies and to remain competitive, they began to customize experiences, like their internship programs, to work with select individuals. For BW, they require students to engage is some service learning or experiential learning project to graduate. They created an innovative on-campus agency called the Digital Marketing Clinic. Students who are part of their Digital Marketing Clinic get to work with different employer clients, participating in a wide variety of projects. They follow a model called the virtual co-op approach. Instead of a traditional internship where they work onsite at an employer, they do the work on campus and provide all services remotely. 

One consistent theme of the conversation was the importance of customizing or adapting these approaches to fit their needs, or for BW, the needs of the clients and students. Sherwin Williams and FedEx Custom Critical both set strict policies and guidelines for how virtual internships would work for them. BW’s Digital Marketing Clinic has faculty with industry experience who oversee all the projects and provide mentorship to the students. Additionally, the students are employees of the school and the school oversees all HR responsibilities of the program. Other rules and guidelines each organization has in place include:

  1. Sherwin determined that some students could continue their internship virtually, after completing a traditional summer internship first. The work would be project-based.
  2. Students are expected to follow and understand business etiquette in a remote environment.
  3. FedEx started small with their virtual internship and worked with two students and one local university.
  4. All three organizations provide the technology and equipment the students will need for work.
  5. All three organizations stressed the importance of integrating the intern into the daily culture of the company as much as possible so they feel they are part of the team. Team-building is very important in virtual internships!
  6. It is essential to have regular and ongoing check-in meetings and other regular communication with the intern.
  7. It is important to ensure that intern supervisors can successfully manage a virtual intern.
  8. ROI is measured by the talent and skills of the intern, the completed projects, the efficiency of the internship program, the development of both the intern and the supervisors working with them, and, of course, the continued relationship between the intern and the employer.

Virtual and micro internships take detailed, thorough planning by the employer. An employer must identify their own unique needs and capacity before implementing any work-based learning program regardless if it is in-person, virtual or project-based. Visit the recent blog, Recommendations for building your virtual internship program, for a more in-depth look at virtual internships.

Want to know more about internship best practices? Visit the Greater Cleveland Partnership’s Internship Central hub to learn more about how to build a best-in-class internship program at your business.

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