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Business Observer Wednesday, Jul. 8, 2020 1 month ago

Even in times of crisis, nimble companies can utilize interns

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An area university is encouraging businesses to transition from in-person to remote internships this summer and fall. Officials have some key tips about how to make it a smooth and productive transition.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

In an attempt to stem the damage from the coronavirus, area employers have made layoffs, placed workers on furloughs and cut salaries.

Now, during peak internship season, some employers are also cutting internship programs. In response, some colleges and universities in the region are redoubling efforts to maintain robust internship programs. 

University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, for one, is working to make sure as few internships as possible are lost amid the pandemic by pointing out the benefits to companies and by providing resources to both employers and students.

‘Internships are probably the single best recruiting tool an employer can have.’ — Ben Hyland, USF Sarasota-Manatee

Ben Hyland, coordinator of internships and career readiness for USF Sarasota-Manatee, says while internships are sometimes the first thing a business cuts, his No. 1 message to employers is the opposite — keep the interns. “They are vital to your workforce, especially with regard to retaining talent and growing talent within your organization,” he says. “Internships are probably the single best recruiting tool an employer can have.”

The school is promoting five key suggestions for employers to keep or implement a remote internship program this summer or fall. Those tips include having interns work remotely on the same or similar work they would have if they were working on site. To make the work pandemic-friendly, interns can use the many online tools employers are turning to these days.

Interns, the school says, can also produce alternate projects, such as contingency plans, database management, research and administrative functions. They could complete related online training through LinkedIn Learning, YouTube, TED Talks and other resources. Interns can create or add work to a company portfolio, something that tends to get overlooked in many companies. Plus, interns can work on updating business policies and procedures, another task often put off, leading to documents years out of date. Remember, university intern officials say, there are several remote work tools out there to help manage employees that can also help manage interns, among them Slack, Asana, Zoom and Microsoft Teams.  

Courtesy. Jay Riley, director of business outreach and community engagement at USF Sarasota-Manatee, says companies now have the experience of employees working remotely under their belts.

Although some area employers have decided to forgo internships for this summer or fall, others have kept them in place. “The majority of employers I’ve had this conversation with have been able to successfully transition their interns to a remote work environment,” Hyland says.

For employers who are making the transition to hosting remote interns, technology hasn’t seemed to be much of a stumbling block. “I think the biggest barrier I’ve seen, at least in my interactions, is flexibility,” Hyland says. “That comes down to a better understanding of how to utilize an intern in a way it wasn’t usually intended.”

Hyland says many hospitality-driven internships have been furloughed. There are several sectors, though, that embrace remote internship work, from finance to media. “A lot of sciences have decided to continue internships in alternate environments,” he adds.

For an intern who in a pre-coronavirus world was supposed to be performing a sales role, for instance, alterations might mean having that person do sales support, organization and research tasks instead of making in-person visits.

In many cases, if an employer switches to offering a remote internship, they can further broaden the skills interns can develop.

Jay Riley, director of business outreach and community engagement at USF Sarasota-Manatee, says another advantage for interns and employers is companies now have the experience of employees working remotely. Lessons learned during the trial-by-fire period of the coronavirus stay-at-home orders might help make remote internships smoother.

Riley also says USF Sarasota-Manatee is ready to help employers make their remote internship programs seamless. “At the same time we’re assisting businesses, we’ll be training students how to operate in this new world of remote internships,” Riley says.

USF is also promoting micro-internships among its students and area employers. It’s partnering with the network Parker Dewey to implement a program that allows businesses to connect with students and recent graduates for help with small projects. A student might assist a restaurant with a specific project, for example, like a social media campaign promoting new safety measures. “What’s great on the employer side is when an employer posts micro-internships in the system, students from all around the nation are looking at them,” Hyland says. “It’s really top-level talent out there looking.”

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