A glimpse into how CSCR® Corporate Sponsor companies are tackling virtual internships and co-ops

CSCR® sat down with three of our our corporate sponsors to catch the 411 on remote internships and co-ops — and how the companies are approaching connectivity during these unprecedented times.

Remembering the days when huddles of people crowded over one desk for in person-conversation before lunch, or the idea of co-workers piling into conference rooms are realities that seem so distant now, like scenes from a movie you saw long ago.

But companies are trying to weave the opportunities for employees, interns and co-ops to remain as robust as they can be and internal communications are pulling a heavier lift to make up for the lack of in-person experiences.

The Center of Supply Chain Research® sat down with Ashlie Wallace, VP of the Global Server and Procurement of Dell Technologies, Sharon Fuschetti, Senior Manager of Supply Planning of The Hershey Company and Kristyn Harkins, Senior Director of Medical Devices and Logistics of Johnson & Johnson.

All three of the center’s corporate sponsors tried tackling the question: how do you replace talking to hundreds of people in person?

Wallace dove in to share that at Dell, hundreds of interns and students with MBAs were hired through a two-way interview process rife with flexibility.

What made the experience just as worthwhile— even with only virtual resources — was providing projects for the new hires to complete so that there were goals and milestones to achieve and look forward to along with networking opportunities.

“[Projects] gave them a full experience and a better evaluation,” Wallace explained. “We matched the interns with the projects given their background and with two or three people they’ve never met before. We gave them a manager, a mentor and a buddy from another cohort.”

Dell understood that the greatest challenge the pandemic wrought was engagement among teams. Interns used to be able to meet everyone at meetings, through tours of the office or coffee chats/lunches.

The company therefore chose to tactfully set up Zoom meetings from different departments so interns got their immersive experience.

“We assign our candidates to past alumni and make sure they talk all the time,” Wallace said. “In a way, the virtual world is a great equalizer. Everyone is a box on the screen!”

Over at The Hershey Company, the virtual experience exceeded expectations because of the time, effort and energy spent to ensure all areas of the virtual internship were prescriptive.

“We made it a requirement that every manager talks to everyone on the team more than once,” Fuschetti said. “We ensured an open door policy.”

The Hershey Company had an advantage given that most of their co-ops had started in January of 2020 so everyone transitioned along with the employees in March to remote. There was never a question to halt the co-ops in fall.

All who were hired accepted the remote position and the company admired this generation’s resilience in learning to grapple with the circumstances in hand.

For Fuschetti, she found that the biggest takeaway is that all interactions now have to be intentional.

“There’s no running into someone in the cafeteria,” she said. “We now offer coffeehouses with senior leaders through Zoom and we have senior leaders talk about how they got to where they are with the co-ops [our hires have today]. The only thing we havent figured out is community involvement, as we used to go to food banks, for example.”

Johnson & Johnson adopted the same approach to networking by ensuring that new hires have mentors and buddies assigned throughout the company due to their mission to uphold empathy and intrinsic value of leadership and new hire relationships.

Putting together trainings and virtual events builds that bond and feeling of inclusion, and Johnson & Johnson knows those are essential for a healthy working environment.

“We’ve really tried to make sure the level of engagement is high by providing meaningful work and pairing interns and co-ops up with a buddy and mentor; it’s always great to have someone to talk to,” Harkins said. “It’s tough to feel embedded into the company culture if you don’t step into the building so it goes back to educating and networking.”

 It goes back to the resilience.

“You need the ability to put yourself out there. How can you use your time to connect and make the most of the situation?” Harkins provided something to think about for all those about to start new co-ops or internships.

 “For the most part, internships and co-ops are exactly this: problem solving. It’s not about adopting a different skill-set but about how you use these same tools [you had before the pandemic] to stand out in a new environment.”