A little more than two weeks ago, as the spread of the coronavirus pandemic was escalating in the U.S., many offices, companies, and firms of all shapes and sizes began to move virtually. Adhering to local and federal guidelines or suggestions to socially distance, the way of work was forced to change within hours or days.
At that point, Rod Adams, the U.S. recruiting lead for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) new this could disrupt the firm’s annual summer internship. Used as a talent pipeline and career-launching experience, PwC regularly hires around 3,500 undergraduate and MBA students as summer interns. Many of those have to make plans far in advance which can include figuring out housing.
“It was at that time where we stepped back and started to think, okay, there’s a serious chance that we’re not able to deliver the internship experience as we previously hoped to do,” Adams tells Poets&Quants.
PUSHING BACK THE START DATE A MONTH
It was at that time Adams and his team also decided it would move its 3,500 summer interns to a virtual experience.
“None of our direct competitors have made a formal announcement around their internship program,” Adams says on Friday, April 3. “I’ve got to assume they’re all considering shortened internships, virtual internships, the kind of things we’ve considered. But as far as I know, we’re the first to get out there with a plan.”
And it makes sense. After all, PwC’s internship wasn’t even scheduled to begin until June 1. Now, Adams says, besides moving online, it will also be pushed back to a July 6 start date. “We know a lot of our interns had to plan for the summer,” Adams says of the push to move online months ahead of when the official internship is now scheduled to begin. “There was housing — or whatever it may be — they had to make plans and we wanted to communicate that to them as early as possible.”
WHAT OTHER COMPANIES ARE DOING
Many companies have already begun freezing or canceling both summer internships and full-time job offers, while others are attempting to move online.
“Moving internships online is a model some employers are implementing as they work to avoid cancelling internship programs,” says Mark Sorenson-Wagner, the director of the Undergraduate Business Center at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. “Some are still hoping to offer on site programs, but planning for virtual in case that isn’t available.”
According to a National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) study published last week, employers have been increasingly moving internships online amid the spread of coronavirus. “Initially, 90% of responding employers expected to maintain their internship programs without change; by the last week in March, that number was down to 74%,” the report said. “This morning (April 1), results were even more dramatic: Just 35% reported moving forward with on-site internships as planned.”
Talia Schatz, the director of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business Undergraduate Career Development Center says she’s been advising students to prepare for “unexpected changes” as they likely pop up over the coming weeks and months.
“There is uncertainty from both students and employers, so it’s challenging to predict exactly how this will unfold,” she says.
DECIDING ON THE MOVE ONLINE
Adams didn’t rule out that the internships could also still move back to residential, “depending on the state of the office.” Either way, Adams says, the MBA internship, in particular, will likely run “in a lot of ways as planned.” Despite the start date being pushed back by a month, it will also run a week later and will still end up being a six-week experience. “But they’re going to still serve clients and have an experience where they’re doing work with the engagement teams,” Adams points out.
PwC kicked around many different options before deciding to move online. Adams says they considered limiting time with clients, which is what they’re doing on the undergraduate internship side. They also considered canceling the internship altogether.
“How do we preserve the safety of our individuals and the ones we’re hiring? How do we do this in a way that is an experience that is worth-while and value-added? This is our future pipeline. So how do we do this in a way that we can preserve that the best we can,” Adams says. “Because our talent approach relies on interns coming in and supporting our associates and then coming in and becoming associates. It’s how our progression model works. So how do we maintain that?”
PREVIOUS TECHNOLOGY INVESTMENTS COULD BE CLUTCH
Earlier investments in technology have been key to moving the internship program online, Adams says.
“We feel good about our technology,” Adams says. “We’ve invested quite a bit in our technology and infrastructure as a firm over the last few years. That investment definitely has positioned us well for our people who are here to work virtually. That investment will help us with the interns as well.”
Interns will be able to use all of PwC’s assets, including computers that will be sent to them.
ADVICE FOR INTERNS GOING ONLINE THIS SUMMER
As for advice for future PwC interns — or interns at other firms that will also be moving online — Adams says to “embrace the experience.”
“Embrace the virtual experience,” Adams advises. “Don’t change your mindset around leveraging this opportunity to showcase what you bring to the table. We’ll be assessing and watching how engaged they are and what ideas and value they bring to the firm.”
Also, Adams says, interns should be doing the assessment themselves. Even if the internship is online, interns should do what they can to get a sense of what the culture and community is like. “Engage in meeting people virtually and ask questions,” Adams suggests.
Lastly, Adams offers some sage advice that pretty much anyone working virtually right now can heed. That’s not to worry about the odd working environment. Kids being loud, dogs barking, and deliveries coming to the door are all parts of working from home.
“The environment might not be perfect. Don’t let that bother you or concern you,” Adams says. “We are all dealing with that right now about how our environments are different.”