Should students take up virtual internships?
The trend of remote working has seen huge momentum over the last few years and has only picked up steam this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This trend includes the rise of virtual internships with companies of all sizes, including giants like KPMG and Deloitte, beginning to offer programmes for remote internships. This year, Google held their first summer internship virtually, attracting over thousands of interns from over 43 countries all around the world.
Virtual internships are programmes that allow students to gain work experience in a remote setting. The entire internship is moved online such that candidates are not required to be physically present at the job site. Relative to traditional ones, what then, are the boons and banes of virtual internships? And as students, what then should we consider when deciding between a virtual and traditional internship?
Acquiring soft skills
Virtual internships can nurture soft skills such as independence, critical thinking and time management as compared to traditional ones. Most of the time, mentors will not micromanage or hand-hold their interns. Instead, we are required to exercise self-reliance coupled with our resourcefulness to tackle our tasks. We have the flexibility to plan our schedules while avoiding racking up a backlog. Hence, while working remotely, one needs to be self-driven and disciplined. This is in contrast to a traditional internship which would typically feature constant supervision. Therefore, virtual internships can help to hone some invaluable qualities.
Acquiring technical skills
Compared to traditional internships, virtual ones are useful experiential learning opportunities to gain professional skills and competencies. They are ideal learning environments to enhance familiarity with tech-based work and improve internet literacy. Remote working induces us to become more adept at using collaborative platforms. As part of a tech-savvy generation, we will be able to swiftly pick up on new digital skills to communicate with our colleagues. Thus, virtual internships are comparable with traditional internships in providing us space to improve our digital literacy on top of learning technical skills.
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Increased opportunities and options
Finally, relative to traditional internships, virtual ones expand the number of opportunities available to us as we are no longer restricted by geography. This means that students can now look abroad and apply to companies that welcome international interns. When working in a multicultural and diverse environment, we can build global connections and increase our network beyond Singapore. Besides, since work is done virtually, there is the option of doing an internship during the school semester. Hence, virtual internships certainly help in breaking down geographical and social barriers.
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Drawbacks to virtual internships
However, regardless of these benefits, we must keep in mind the downsides to interning remotely. With remote working, we lose the advantage of building interpersonal relationships through physical interactions. Hence, it could result in a low attachment to the workplace. The lack of in-office experience means we miss out on observing how office procedures are done and learning by watching our seniors at work. Therefore, virtual internships could pose a challenge if we are looking to develop interpersonal relationships or a sense of attachment.
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Other factors to consider
On top of accounting for the pros and cons, we should bear in mind our working style and personality. Individuals who are organised, self-motivated and comfortable working independently will benefit immensely from remote working. On the other hand, extroverts who enjoy physical interactions and building rapport would prefer an office setting. Plus, for those looking into a career in the humanities and social sciences, interacting face-to-face is often a defining feature of the job. Finally, individuals set on a virtual internship should look for companies committed to supporting their interns. A supervisor who gives timely feedback would be a considerable help when we are still experimenting and getting used to the job. These are some aspects that we should take into consideration.
In conclusion, the learning environment, the nature of the industry, and attitude we foster will contribute to our final takeaways from the entire experience. On top of these, the pros and cons of virtual and traditional internships play a part too. Therefore, after taking into account all these elements, we can hopefully make a well-informed decision.