According to a recent survey, 35% of students who had accepted summer internships this year learned that they were canceled due to COVID-19. That’s bad news, of course, but if there’s a silver lining, it’s that the internships that are happening are taking enhanced and innovative approaches toward engaging students.
I’ve seen this firsthand here in Kansas City, where we began a phased reopening back in May and where I lead TeamKC, a talent attraction and retention initiative of the Kansas City Area Development Council. Whether current internships are in-person, virtual, or take a hybrid approach, a key aspect of setting these programs apart has been their intentional focus on community.
With that in mind, here’s how some employers have adapted their internship programs to benefit themselves, interns, and their local communities.
After seeing a shortage of opportunities for high school and college students due to the global pandemic, Kansas City-based CommunityAmerica Credit Union hired 357 local interns this year and had them pitch COVID-19 solutions. The company asked them to identify a problem, find a solution, and then enter a pitch competition.
Winning pitches included the Connection Bear, a stuffed animal embedded with technology to help comfort families separated by COVID-19 circumstances, and HexaChat, a mental health app and support group for teens in COVID-19 isolation. Other intriguing ideas centered on connecting area residents to essential resources and companionship for lonely seniors.
“My hope is that other businesses will follow our example,” says Anita Newton, chief innovation officer at CommunityAmerica. “We could be a front-runner in helping our next generation learn how to win in the real world. We not only need that; we’re counting on it.”
Tech giant Garmin International offers one of the nation’s most robust and valuable internship talent programs, which has been adjusted in size this summer to ensure the safety of students and employees. Nevertheless, Garmin has hired 90 interns from 30 universities for its Olathe, Kan., headquarters, with a hybrid approach of virtual and in-person experiences.
“Maintaining the health of our associates and their families while also providing safe and productive work accommodations is our top priority,” explains Hanna Bohl, a university relations recruiter at Garmin. “That’s why this year, we’ve adapted our traditional 12-week internship program to include additional elements that further enhance our interns’ experiences to show them what it means to work at Garmin.”
That has meant putting community philanthropy at the center of internships. With many employees working remotely and community-wide events currently on hold, the team helped interns partner with Charlie Hustle, a local T-shirt company, to create custom Garmin apparel. The shirts include the community’s iconic “KC Heart” branding, and proceeds will benefit Harvesters Community Food Network, a local organization that the interns selected to support.
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As Bohl points out, “Our existing program is packed with projects, events, and touch points that are relevant and impactful. And with these additional modifications, we’re set to deliver another outstanding summer experience.”
Virtual Meetings and Roundtables
SelectQuote, an insurance distribution platform, launched its first formal internship program this year. The company was planning to host its interns in-person but shifted quickly in response to the pandemic.
“We’re hosting interns from 10 universities across the Midwest,” says Mika McGinnis, campus recruiter at SelectQuote. “With our entire workforce working remotely, we knew we needed to be intentional in creating a community dynamic among our interns, associates and leadership that you would experience organically within our physical workspace.”
The company credits its program success thus far to the direct access its 22 interns have to the company’s board of directors and leadership team. From digital roundtables with the organization’s CEO and COO to ongoing connections and one-on-ones with leaders throughout the organization, interns at SelectQuote have an all-access pass to the company and its employee community. Such opportunities rarely exist for interns even during in-person internships, so by focusing on the importance of relationships, SelectQuote is able to ensure a valuable experience for interns.
For CommunityAmerica Credit Union, Garmin International, and SelectQuote, a key focus on community within their internship programming has created significant value for interns, especially during the pandemic. Moreover, such efforts will continue to be important elements that set their programs apart.