July 12th, 2021

Navigating internships in 2021 and beyond

The onset of summer has long coincided with an influx of internships hosted within companies large and small. For many college students, these internships provide the first taste of a 40-hour work week in an office environment. Internships are critical skill development tools, helping to prepare the next wave of employees to enter the professional workforce post-graduation.

Greater Grand RapidsTalent

The onset of summer has long coincided with an influx of internships hosted within companies large and small. For many college students, these internships provide the first taste of a 40-hour work week in an office environment. Internships are critical skill development tools, helping to prepare the next wave of employees to enter the professional workforce post-graduation.

As with many things, the unexpected impact of the COVID-19 pandemic upset the cadence of internship programs. While businesses are steadily recovering, restoring internships is one area of focus that has fallen behind.

It is not uncommon for top-tier internship programs to complete their summer recruiting in the fall. Because of this, many students had their summer 2020 internships lined up by December 2019 – or so they thought. In March 2020, many students found themselves on the receiving end of notices delaying or cancelling their internships, either for logistical reasons— companies not able to transition internships to remote work—or for financial reasons. Similarly, students who waited until the spring recruiting season found recruiting events had simply been cancelled altogether, leaving them with highly limited options.

The disruptions COVID-19 caused for internships have had far-reaching effects for students and employers alike. Many businesses in West Michigan rely on their summer internship programs to cultivate talent pipelines for their entry-level positions. Without them, companies are beginning to see gaps in their candidate pools. While employers typically benefit from former interns returning to their college campus and sharing their experiences, those champions eventually graduate. Without continuous internship programming, that word-of-mouth resource quickly runs out.

Summer internships are also critical growth drivers for West Michigan. Regional employers attract interns from all over the country. In 2019, out of 500 interns surveyed, 10% were from out-of-state schools representing universities in 12 states. Both employers and the region benefit from attracting top talent to these programs.

Summer in West Michigan is a great time to sell young professionals on moving here permanently post-graduation. Along with the career opportunity they are trying on for size, the region’s lifestyle opportunities are usually in full swing: easy access to outdoor recreation, frequent festivals, and an abundance of nightlife options. If West Michigan’s companies do not host summer interns, we miss out on the opportunity to attract new, quality talent to the region.

Most of the companies our team spoke to in 2020 who chose to cancel their summer internship programs said they would be back in 2021. Unsure of how long remote work would last, Hello West Michigan spent the year teaching companies about remote internships through Employer Internship Training Programs. The team wanted companies to be prepared in the event that remote work was still the norm by summer 2021.

With the summer season officially here, we have seen a variety of practices implemented to handle internships, with many policies set in place prior to the lifting of in-person office work restrictions. In many cases, companies chose to hire fewer interns than in previous years due to reduced capacity within their office buildings. Others chose to hire more out-of-state students, knowing that the positions could be supported remotely. Conversely, some companies have made the option of in-person work available to local interns who have filled remote roles, allowing them to come in and experience the office culture if they would like. With many companies restoring their internship programs for the summer 2021 season, both students the regional economy alike are benefitting from this return to normalcy.

Unfortunately, much of the uncertainty of 2020 has carried over into 2021, causing some companies to cancel their internship programming once again. Many have done so because they did not feel they could provide an enriching experience virtually. If your company falls into this category, it is not too late to add interns this summer, especially if you already have a job description and project plan lined-up. Companies can start by reaching out to Career Services offices at local colleges, who will walk them through how to share job postings directly with students for free.

If you don’t have a job description or project plan, it may be too late to host an intern this summer, but it’s not too late to start planning for summer 2022. Not sure where to begin? Hello West Michigan hosts free Employer Internship Training Sessions once a month, August – May. These sessions are designed to help companies start or improve their internship programs.

More information and session registration can be found at www.hellowestmichigan.com/eitstoolkit.

Questions? Get in touch with the Hello West Michigan team

Rachel-Gray-Headshot

Rachel Gray

Executive Director, Hello West Michigan

As the Executive Director for Hello West Michigan, Rachel leads the organization’s strategy, operations, and membership. She helps educate employers and prospective candidates about the region.

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Jessica-Kuster-Headshot

Jessica Kuster

Program Manager, Hello West Michigan

Jessica serves as the Program Manager for Hello West Michigan, where she oversees the internship and candidate connection programs, marketing and communication needs, and facilitates member orientation and training programs.

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