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Coronavirus alters summer internships

Employers cut program participation, while others nix opportunities entirely

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The coveted summer internship may look a little different this year.

Summer internships have become a rite of passage for college students and those looking to change careers. And for some employers, the coronavirus pandemic has upended that tradition by canceling or altering the traditional eight- to 12-week programs.

Nationwide, 35% of students say their internships were canceled, and 24% say their programs will shift to digital formats, according to a recent survey by talent-acquisition software company Yello. Of the canceled internships, 64% of participants said they did not receive an alternative internship offer, such as compensation or a guaranteed spot in the next internship round.

This also comes at a time with nationwide record unemployment, which has surpassed 33 million claims in the last seven weeks.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry reported in a recent newsletter that more than 400 interns were searching for opportunities on the state’s online career portal. The chamber urged employers to consider offering a remote alternative, guaranteeing an interview for next year’s program or postponing the program.

Kelly Rapp, director of the career center at Missouri State University, said she’s seen some internships fall through for the summer. But she noted programs that advertise to MSU students aren’t required to report their status to the center.

Rapp said Carthage-based Leggett & Platt Inc. is one company that reported its program would be canceled this summer. Officials with the company, which manufactures engineered components and products for homes, offices and vehicles, did not return requests for comment.

“Right now, a lot of companies are planning in-person programs with the caveat that they’ll do something virtual if possible,” Rapp said. “If the student secured an internship and it happened to be canceled, they’re still encouraged to put that on their resume because it shows they’re marketable. Everyone is going to understand why they weren’t able to complete that internship.”

Altered setup
With social distancing guidelines in the workplace and some companies continuing to work from home, the summer-long, professional crash course is already in a position to be different than years prior.

Interns slated for Jack Henry & Associates Inc. this summer still will get to participate in the program, though it may begin as a virtual position. Rachel Raymond, senior manager of strategic talent acquisition at Jack Henry, said the software company’s 20 national interns will begin in June either online or in the office, depending on whether the company is continuing to work remotely. Five interns have been hired in the Springfield and Monett area, she said. Interns are paid and work in a variety of positions, including engineering, aviation and business operations.

At BKD LLP, the typical internship is an eight-week program, which provides roughly 320 hours of experience to students along with compensation. Because of COVID-19, BKD national Human Resources Manager Julie Cummings said the company has slashed the program to five weeks and delayed the start date until late June or early July.

“We pushed it out to hopefully support more of that in-person opportunity,” she said, adding the company is considering city guidelines across the country.

The typical internship includes opportunities for professional development, leadership interaction, client work and time for special projects. Cummings said over 100 interns have been selected across the country, with three hired at the Springfield office.

“It’s critical for that intern to get a full appreciation for what the environment is going to be like. We wanted to make sure the internship replicated, even abbreviated, the standard internship we provide,” she said, noting interns also would have social distancing guidelines, heightened protocols and videconference meetings.

Officials at CoxHealth expect to see a dramatic cut in attendance for summer programs. Spokesperson Kaitlyn McConnell said the health care system chose to limit its summer student volume to 35% to help stop the spread of the virus and support social distancing.

The changes also would help reduce the use of personal protective equipment that’s needed to take care of COVID-19 patients, she said.

Financial concerns
Jonathan Andrews, senior vice president of human resources and training at O’Reilly Automotive Inc., said the company is considering limiting the number of internship hires because of financial concerns.

“We’re on a hiring freeze right now,” said Andrews. “We anticipate still having an internship program, but we’re still determining the size and scope. … We have some in the pipeline, and we’re not going to go back on those.”

O’Reilly Automotive offers paid internships year-round in software development. Andrews declined to comment on the wages but noted they’re higher than minimum wage.

Andrews said the program is set to start with 10 interns, noting the company usually hires around 50 for the summer.

The program typically begins with a training period at MSU, but Andrews said the interns will start this year with videoconferencing. The goal is to get them into the classroom and the workplace at some point this summer.

Thomas Douglas, CEO and president of JMark Business Solutions Inc., was hoping to revive the company’s summer apprenticeship program to meet the increased need of information technology talent in the Springfield area. He said the financial impact of COVID-19 has stopped that program for the time being.

“We’re watching budgets and our investments just like anyone else,” Douglas said. “We had scheduled to kick off near the end of the school year and we were working with the job center here in town to find candidates. … So, we’ve had to put it on pause for a while.”

Douglas said he was planning on hiring up to eight workers for paid summer apprenticeships, which in years past have led to long-term employees for the company. He noted the company received federal Paycheck Protection Program funding and he has not furloughed any staff members amid COVID-19.

“Some of our greatest people have come through these programs. Not being able to pull them in is definitely a downer for us,” he said.

“The battle for talent isn’t going to get better right now. It might get worse because more businesses are realizing their need to rely on technology than ever before. We’re anxious to get it going again.”

Comments

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Jim Radzienda

Internships being cancelled is not a good idea. Young folks just getting out of school are already facing a rough time in the job market. An internship will help direct them moving forward either for themselves or for the company and themselves. The country needs to move forward. If the virus situation is going to be here for a long time we need to deal with it and consider young folks at the same time.

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