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Analytics State of Mind: Adapting Traditional Internship Programs to Virtual Experiences

As we move into the height of graduation season and schools commencing for the year, I wanted to dedicate the next couple blog posts from this series to highlight some different activities taking place in US universities. Specifically, this month’s post will focus on the current reality employers and students applying for internships are facing in the wake of COVID-19.

As of this week, at least 124,000 US public and private schools are closed impacting at least 55.1 million students (EducationWeek). Couple those numbers with more than 22 million Americans unemployed due to COVID-19 implications and you are in a pretty challenging situation if you are a student/recent grad or an employer seeking internship support this summer. These numbers aren’t meant to depress, rather it’s about being practical and realistic on what you can do and what you can expect in the coming months as an employer placing interns or a prospective intern seeking an assignment.

Whether an organization is massive or minuscule in scale, there is always an appetite to utilize interns for extra support; many employers rely on summer internship programs to build out their talent pipeline and deepen engagement with top candidates in competitive markets, this is especially true for data and analytics talent. Employers also look to interns for fresh perspectives and exposure to the latest thinking as well as emerging trends regarding new tools and technologies. If you’re planning to hire a paid or unpaid intern this year to support your data and analytics activities, the typical process and playbook for working with interns is simply not viable in the current environment and will require some updating to adapt to social distancing measures, shelter in place restrictions, and any corporate specific initiatives due to COVID-19. Here are some things to consider for both employers and interns:

· Virtual Learning – As an employer or intern, be prepared to operate in a virtual environment with in-person meetings only happening once restrictions are lifted. This means that employers will need to provide training materials, employee manuals, how-to documents, timesheets, project trackers, anything designed for interns (and their managers) online. Proper security measures will also need to be in place and interns will need to have access to the right machines, tools, licenses, data, etc. to be successful in their program.

· Adapt and Discover New Solutions – Now is the time for interns to proactively learn and demonstrate their abilities to adapt and work virtually; they have the opportunity to really shine when it comes to investigating and mastering new presentation tools, project management approaches, and communication platforms. Additionally, interns can set themselves apart by demonstrating best practices for working from home and staying productive and motivated in a non-traditional work environment.

· Set Clear Expectations – Employers and interns should adhere to a simple yet informative scoring matrix to assess project output, professional behavior (both soft skills and technical skills). A 360 review should also be completed at the end of a major project and/or assignment so interns can provide feedback to their peers as well as their manager.

· Communicate How You Want to Communicate – Employers and interns should discuss the best channels and methods for communication in a remote environment whether it’s related to a specific project or more general questions, seeking advice, etc. During the on boarding, there should be clear guidelines and discussion around communication protocol whether it’s setting up 1:1 meetings, active participation in daily stand-ups, access to an enterprise social network, text messaging, or attending designated office hours.

· Create Interesting Projects – This is especially important for employers to think about for younger interns. Assessing how interns approach problem solving can be very telling, don’t just try to stump them and create impossible tasks with your projects, rather get them engaged, excited, and exposed to something that is challenging yet still achievable.

· Divide and Conquer – When possible, employers should design group projects as these can be especially helpful to discern group dynamics and how individuals communicate, collaborate, divvy up work, assign roles and responsibilities. It’s also important that no matter how the work is divided, every intern should have the opportunity to present findings and share personal insights during meetings and presentations.

· Stay Aligned – University professors, employers, and interns should maintain open lines of communication throughout the duration of an internship especially in this new environment; there will be many learnings and opportunities for growth and success but likely some bumpy spots along the way. Natl. Assoc. of Colleges & Employees is a good resource to leverage.

These are just a handful of ideas and recommendations for employers and interns to consider when navigating the market in the COVID-19 era. Although some internships are being postponed or cancelled (Candor and Is My Internship Cancelled?), there will still be many opportunities for interns to grow and develop their skills this summer and for employers to acquire top talent and appreciate the many benefits of a strong internship program.

Employers and/or managers that have internship programs – what are you anticipating this summer? Have there been drastic changes to your plans or are things on track? Do you work with specific university programs offering analytics degrees to source talent?

Special thanks to Dr. Jennifer Priestley, Kennesaw State University and Dr. Allison Jones-Farmer, Miami University for sharing their thoughts on this topic.

Lise Massey is the Program Manager for IIA’s Analytics Leadership Consortium (ALC) and has been with IIA for six years. The ALC is a closed network of senior analytics executives from diverse industries who meet to share and discuss best practices, as well as discover and develop analytics innovation, all for the purpose of improving the business impact of analytics at their firms. Prior to IIA, Lise spent over 10 years designing, managing, and leading media analytics programs for a diverse portfolio of clients and has experience in many aspects of program and project management, account management, strategic and tactical planning, business development, and training. Lise is a graduate from the University of Oregon.

You can view more posts by Lise here.

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