COVID-19 Changes Internships, Apprenticeships

Take our poll to let us know what alterations you are making to your programs

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek April 13, 2020
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intern working from home

​Travel restrictions and social-distancing mandates prompted by COVID-19 are causing organizations to rethink their approach to apprenticeships and internships, which typically involve hands-on, in-person participation.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) is seeing a steady push toward moving internships online or limiting them in size and duration. A quick unscientific poll it conducted April 3 with 130 of its employer members provided insight on how members are adapting their programs: 

  • 35 percent are making no changes to their program.
  • 35 percent are reducing the length of internships by delaying the start date.
  • 29 percent are moving to a virtual program.
  • 20 percent are moving events such as end-of-program presentations online.
  • 15 percent are reducing the number of interns.
Some organizations are considering micro-internships that condense a 10-to-12-week internship into a one-to-two-week experience later in the summer, said Bruce Soltys, head of talent acquisition sourcing strategy at The Travelers Companies based in Hartford, Conn. It has a 450-person internship program at 25 locations throughout the U.S.

He was among speakers at a panel discussion on internships that NACE hosted April 2.

"Companies might put a little bit more of an emphasis on training and development where [interns] are really focused on the learning and development piece and not so much on a personal project," Soltys said. 

"From a change management perspective, we've presented the case to our senior leaders to say, 'If we have to go down this path from a virtual-work standpoint, the main question is, can this work be done virtually?' I think a lot of managers are not comfortable with the notion of interns doing the work virtually because [interns] are so new to the organization."


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Coronavirus and COVID-19


SAS, a computer software company outside of Raleigh, N.C., has a seven-figure investment in its internship program, said Kayla Woitkowski, a university recruiter leader for SAS who spoke on the NACE panel. Her employer is "making sure that any internship that does go virtual … the students have valuable work" to perform.

She has found, based on phone conversations with other employers, that organizations are taking one of three stances toward internships in light of COVID-19: 

  1. Turning their internship program into a virtual one, ensuring that any work interns have been hired to perform can be done remotely.
  2. Canceling internships.
  3. Pushing back start dates.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Employing Interns]

As organizations wrestle with what to do with their internship programs, it's important that they keep in contact with the students they selected, said David Ong, panel moderator and senior director of corporate recruiting at Maximus. The Washington, D.C.-based company is a health and human services provider for state, federal and local governments.

The organization met with all interns and program associates as a group to assure them that they would keep them up-to-date on the program's status.

"It is also just a chance to keep them engaged," Ong said. "A lot of these students have [other] options."

Online tools can be an internship program's friend, according to Renato Profico, CEO of Doodle, a Zurich-based online scheduling tool. 

"They can translate culture into a digital setting to make interns and new hires feel included," said Profico, who has personally invited every employee to a 15-minute virtual coffee meeting over the next few weeks. "These little things are important at a time when employee engagement and retention could dip significantly."

Apprenticeships 

Changes prompted by COVID-19 will likely cause companies to be more pragmatic in how they view the role of apprenticeships, said Jennifer Carlson. She is the co-founder and executive director of Apprenti, which operates in 12 states as a fully paid technology apprenticeship program for minorities, veterans and women.

"COVID-19 is going to force companies to be more deliberate and probably see apprenticeships as an equitable pipeline, equivalent with all their talent acquisition pipelines," Carlson said. "Not all jobs in the science, technology, engineering and math fields, for example, require a college degree.

"You can take people from nontraditional [areas] and train them and create a second pipeline [for talent] using apprenticeships."

One such example is the Youth Technology Apprenticeship Camp (YTAC) in Charlotte, N.C., a major technology workforce site in the U.S. Last year, for example, home-improvement company Lowe's announced the creation of a 2,000-employee global tech hub in Charlotte.

The demand for employees with tech skills "is off the charts for these companies," said Tariq Scott Bokhari, Charlotte city councilman and founder of the Carolina Fintech Hub. The Fintech Hub created YTAC and partnered with the city of Charlotte, the Charlotte Executive Leadership Council, the Bank of America Foundation and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Apprentices are high-school seniors who earn a credential after completing the four-week program. Those performing above a certain threshold are guaranteed acceptance into the local Workforce Investment Network training program. After successfully completing six months of training, participants are guaranteed a job as a full stack developer with a starting salary of $55,000.

The pandemic prompted a format change to the apprenticeship: It will be entirely virtual. Participants meet in small virtual breakout groups to work on their project, participate in labs, hackathons and livestream competitions and attend virtual training.

Bokhari thinks the altered format will continue in some way after the pandemic is over. With the virtual setup, overhead costs are lower, so more students can be accommodated. It also mirrors what he thinks will be the new reality for work.

"I think things will change forever after this, but it will probably be some mixture of physical and virtual [format]. We want this experience … to mimic the real-life workforce environment. I think the real-life workforce environment is going to change." 


Poll Results: How Is the Coronavirus Pandemic Impacting Internships?

Number of respondents: 55.


Poll Results: How Is the Coronavirus Pandemic Impacting Apprenticeships?

Number of respondents: 9.

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