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Summer 2020 and the Virtual Internship Experiment

Written by Angela Finding

In the spring of 2020, employers across the nation began making decisions about their summer internships. For many, that meant cancelling internships all together. For other employers, virtual internships officially “entered the chat.” With the decision made to hold summer internships, thousands of employers were suddenly trying to figure out what that actually looked like in reality.

In April, the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP) decided to survey many Northeast Ohio employers to see what their plans were for their summer programs (click here to review those results). At that time, many were still in the decision-making process, but others were moving quickly to pivot their programs to virtual programs. We learned from the survey that even the employers who were committed to having summer internships had no idea yet how their programs would be implemented.

Fast forward to fall 2020 and summer internships are now in the rear-view mirror. We know that a lot was learned from the virtual internship experiment. GCP again surveyed local employers to get their feedback on how their internship programs fared this summer. Some of the key findings from the survey were:

  1. Many employers shortened their programs or delayed the start of their programs to allow for planning.
  2. Some employers started out 100% virtual but moved to hybrid programs as the summer progressed. Hybrid means different things to different employers but generally means that some form of the program included an in-person component.
  3. Most of the employers who had some form of internships this summer said they consider them to be successful.
  4. Some of the employer feedback about the most successful parts of their internship programs were:
    • Seamless transition to a virtual program
    • Intern engagement – most said their interns were as engaged or more engaged than interns in previous years
    • Work product
    • Student resilience and adaptability
    • Learning opportunities for students
  5. There were also challenges with their internship programs. Some of those challenges were:
    • Training interns
    • Keeping them busy/meaningful work
    • Limited social interactions/authentic connections
    • Condensed duration of the program
    • Helping students feel connected to the organization

Now that employers have some time to evaluate the successes and challenges of their summer programs, one thing is certain, employers are now thinking about internships in a new light. There are a lot of decisions to be made in terms of student recruitment, training, engagement, and what aspects of virtual internships will remain permanent going forward. It is probably safe to say that the approach to internships and the actual implementation is likely changed forever, and that is positive for both students and employers.

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