Many US students due to start internships in the coming months have had them cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic. But we’re not letting COVID-19 get in the way of our programs this summer – instead we’re creating ‘virtual internships’.
Internships are a crucial stepping stone for young adults looking to climb onto the career ladder but, for many American students, COVID-19 has jeopardised their plans this summer.
But we’ve taken a different approach and switched to offering virtual internships. By moving online, we’ve made sure that our eight-week-long program can still go ahead. For the duration of the program, our ‘Gridterns’ will be working alongside their line managers in a virtual capacity.
For the last ten summers, as many as 200 interns have arrived at National Grid sites from across the US, meaning we’ve had thousands of participants to date. Universities, including technological and engineering leaders University of Illinois and Clarkson University, send many students to us to get a taste of a real-life career at National Grid.
The paid internships span across the whole of our business, from engineering to marketing to IT, and offer interns the chance to build their own professional and social network.
Valerie Rollo, Manager, Campus to Careers within US Talent Acquisition, who leads the programme, is as committed as ever to building a pipeline of talent and helping young people hone their career plans.
This year’s internships are going to be a little different, but she hopes they remain as valuable as ever. “There’ll be 174 interns joining this summer, for a fully virtual experience. We’ve also shortened the program, just to make sure we can provide enough support,” says Valerie.
There’ll be 174 interns joining this summer, for a fully virtual experience.
Just because things are online only doesn’t mean interns will miss out on gaining great work experience. In Human Resources, for example, interns will be supporting Valerie and her colleagues with ‘return to work’ planning. They’ll look at how employees will be able to safely come back to their normal workplaces, so they’ll be involved in something of real use and importance.
As early as the end of March, the team organizing internships started thinking about “What happens if…?” They were determined not to cancel the program and immediately spent a couple of weeks working out if the internships could be delivered virtually and, if so, how this might be done.
The first step was to ask all the line managers involved in the program whether they were happy to have a virtual intern and if there was appropriate work available. Plenty of managers were comfortable going ahead with this and where this was not the case Valerie’s team found alternative placements to ensure no intern positions had to be cancelled.
One of the new initiatives for this year is the introduction of our Gridterns Give Back program. Interns will be paid to provide 30 hours of time as volunteers with charitable organizations in their communities.
They’ll be allowed to choose the type of role they take on and which non-profit they get involved with. As well as helping to support those in need, we’re sure they’ll gain valuable new experiences along the way.
It’s been all hands to the deck to prepare information and training for the new ‘virtual internships’ this year. The IT teams have been putting together introductions to the tools we use but, as many students have spent their last semester working remotely, they’re already prepared and used to this sort of technology.
Valerie says it’s been really exciting for her and her team, and the challenges she expected to come up haven’t happened. “I expected line managers might not all figure out how to make a virtual internship work, but I’ve actually found quite the opposite. I thought that was the biggest challenge, but it was fine,” she explains.
The experience has proved that, even during a pandemic, with enough ingenuity we can continue to deliver opportunities for young people who are keen to join us to build the energy systems of the future.