internship, interns

Gaining on-the-job experience while being out of the office

Are there still benefits to an internship when it’s done remotely? Both employers and interns say yes.

Are there still benefits to an internship when it’s done remotely? Both employers and interns say yes.

Like many other aspects of the world of work, internships were forced online as Covid-19 spread. But despite concerns about the ability of interns to learn on the job when that involves working from your front room, the internships remain a valuable way to introduce students and recent graduates to the workforce.

Both employers and interns benefit from the internship opportunity, which can range in periods of time from several weeks to months, or even a year.

Interns gain valuable work experience along with a chance to explore a career path, network with industry professionals and build up a CV. Meanwhile, employers get additional insight into what drives future employees and how to recruit them, while also increasing productivity in the workplace and boosting their visibility on university campuses.

A changing market

However, Covid-19 profoundly affected the workplace and job market at all levels, with graduate recruitment – including internships and placements – falling by 30% or more in some countries last year, according to a July 2020 report by the Institute of Student Employers.

But while some companies cancelled or deferred their internships, others adapted them to remote and virtual settings, leading to an increase in demand. For instance, Indian recruitment and online training platform Internshala saw a 31% increase in the number of placements posted by employers and a 35% rise in the number of students applying in 2020.

Unsurprisingly, this has been accompanied by a rise in demand for work-from-home internship opportunities – with 76% applying for remote placements in 2020, compared to a maximum of 25% between 2013-19, Internshala added.

“It can still be a valuable experience for employees and interns, even if the internships are done remotely,” says Sarvesh Agrawal, CEO and founder of Internshala. “Since March 2020, all our operations are happening through online means. The interns for all profiles are hired through online activities including application submission through the website, assignment submissions over email, telephonic interviews and video interviews through Google Meet.”

Similarly, any onboarding processes for any of the 10,000 placements offered on the site – such as joining formalities, introductions to the team and work – are also carried out online. “The mentors are in constant touch with the interns to provide feedback, assist with their work, encourage them to be curious, share their ideas and inputs and take complete ownership of their work,” adds Agrawal.

Part of the team

Agrawal’s observations appear to reflect the experience of Leeni Varis, 25, a former intern at Wärtsilä’s communications and branding team in Helsinki, Finland. She completed a six-month paid internship after graduating with a BA in Journalism and MA in Intercultural Communication at the University of Jyväskylä and successfully completing an online application process.

Varis believes that the experience she gained while working at Wärtsilä, particularly in terms of communications skills, has been invaluable in her latest role – and that is despite working remotely and only once going into the office to collect her equipment. “We were located in different places, different cities, different countries, so it worked out quite well for me,” she says.

“I found the team very accommodating, and they all welcomed me very well, and tried to be encouraging,” says Varis. “That was a big thing for me – to have a working environment where you feel like you’re one of the team.”

Possibilities for the future

Indeed, Varis argues there are some benefits to doing an internship remotely in terms of preparing you for the workplace. “It kind of pushes you to monitor your own workload and schedules a bit more, but the essentials of the work are still the same,” she observes.

Such internships are becoming increasingly popular with applicants, too – which can be beneficial for both the intern and the employer. “For the past three years I have been with the company, I would say we have been getting more and more applications in every year,” says Ritva Seppänen, Vice President, Brand at Wärtsilä. “And more and more talented young people to choose from, for sure. So, great quality people to select the best from.”

Seppänen doesn’t see remote or hybrid working being a problem for future internships either. “Yes, there are some projects for which physical presence may be required, but definitely most of the work can be done remotely, regardless of the location. So, I wouldn’t see it being a problem continuing in some kind of a hybrid format in the future too.”

Internshala’s Agrawal agrees, saying: “The organisations are definitely going to be more open to remote working or hybrid working models in the post-Covid world. In fact, in a survey we conducted with employers in 2020, 54% of employers said that companies will embrace remote working in the post-COVID era and will hire a mix of both remote as well as in-office interns and employees.”

Written by

Natalie Marchant