Date Category
9th September 2021 Blog

Internship programmes provide a valuable opportunity to positively contribute to a student’s real-world industry experience, but they also give a lot to the internship provider – and to our wider community.  Here, 2021 SUMS Intern, Tehya Connery, and SUMS Head of Marketing and Communications, Marion Hutchins reflect on the value of hosting a student intern during Covid-19 – and how now is the time to make the leap to supporting internships (for those sitting on the fence).

The Value of an Internship: It’s a Win-Win-Win

When asked, most people would probably see the inherent value in offering internships to students.  A well-planned internship provides valuable on-the-ground industry experience in a student’s desired profession, allowing them to apply the theory learned in coursework to real life.  The organisation offering the internship gets what can be much-needed support, new ideas and fresh thinking to tackle a current challenge.

But there are also wider social benefits from supporting students through hosting internships.  In a recent post, Wonkhe noted, “According to DLHE data, at Bournemouth University students who undertook a placement, including underrepresented or disadvantaged students, were:

  • 27 per cent more likely to complete their course;
  • 18.8 per cent more likely to achieve a 1 or 2:1; and
  • 42.7 per cent more likely to attain highly skilled graduate-level employment.”

Paid internships, in particular, support social mobility, by offering opportunities to disadvantaged students who would benefit from the above positive outcomes.

Covid-19 threw a considerable spanner in the works for most organisations. Many organisations have been furloughing staff or making redundancies, and so supporting interns hasn’t been possible.  For others, the need to re-focus to keep business coming in during Covid-19 has meant resource hasn’t been available to effectively mentor an intern.  However, the addition of an intern to the team can have great benefits at precisely times like these.  Depending on the area of the internship, virtual internships can offer comparable and still very effective experiences for both the student and the internship provider. 

POV: The Internship Provider, from Marion

SUMS, which includes SUMS Consulting and SUPC, has been offering internships within our marketing and communications function for the last four years.  In that time, we have welcomed six excellent University of Reading students – Rachelle Wong, Elliot Kim, Alex Doamo, Laura Prelez, Naomi Bennett and Tehya Connery.  Internships have occurred at various points in the students’ university degrees, for a minimum of six weeks over the summer.  Our students have worked on everything from social media content, to graphic design, to video production, to communications campaign development.  All with the aim of increasing the information and value we can provide our members and clients, while providing a worthwhile learning opportunity for students. SUMS has really benefitted from the perspective these students have provided as true ‘digital natives’ – challenging the thinking of our in-house team. The company’s online reach and influence has grown as a direct result of their input and the long-term impact it has made on the permanent staff base.

Each student has made a significant contribution to a project or programme which has helped our organisation engage with our members and clients.  While the idea of a virtual internship created some hesitancy initially, going virtual has enabled us to keep our internship support going throughout Covid-19 – and it may well be the way we operate in the future (complemented with in-person time).  On a personal level, I have really enjoyed working with all of our interns and we get them back to support with projects, via paid work, as often as we can – several have been back to work with us; one of whom parlayed their internship into a six-month stint with us! 

POV: The Intern, from Tehya

One thing studying sometimes doesn’t prepare you for is the real world. Books are fantastic, but they can fall slightly short when it comes to successfully navigating the socially interactive working week. Before coming to SUMS, I had held down various part-time student jobs but hadn’t really had work experience in a sector I was particularly interested in (excluding of course the one-week work experience I gained back in year nine in the school art department). When I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to intern at SUMS, it felt like Lucy Pevensie discovering the wardrobe for the first time!

What Was it Like?

The role provided full-time paid work experience in marketing and communication; a thriving, creative and prospective field (particularly for an indecisive art student going into their fourth year). I got the opportunity to meet nearly all members of staff and was welcomed with open (virtual) arms. On the first day, I was taken by surprise every time outlook pinged proudly, announcing the arrival of yet another welcome email to the inbox.

I was given a thorough orientation and from week one, I was given responsibility in creating and editing content for the website and pursuing my own self-directed study into SEO. I reported to SUMS Head of Marketing and Communications, but was also able to work closely with an internal client – getting a feel for how marketing agencies might work.  I really enjoyed the balance between directed tasks and self-directed learning. Throughout, I was able to expand upon my video-editing skills, using programs such as Canva and Renderforest. I worked with the team to create the branding and content for a series of short videos for members who want to learn more about our frameworks and how to get the most from them. This in itself was also a great learning process, as like some of the intended viewers, I too was not an expert in procurement, to begin with.

Throughout, there were also several opportunities to network. I had the opportunity to speak with SUMS Group CEO, SUMS Group Managing Director and SUPC’s Head of Procurement, so I got a good feel for the structure of a business and how an SME operates.

How Did I Find Working Remotely?

One of the main downsides to working remotely is the absence of an office social ‘buzz’. However, I found I had regular contact and support throughout the internship, creating the feeling of a connected ‘virtual’ workspace, despite our differing locations. The Friday staff team catch-ups also provided a good way to fill in the social gaps.

It is also difficult finding that detachment between work and leisure time. For example, there is a difference in getting to an office for 8:30am as opposed to the three-step commute to your desk at 8:25am to switch on a laptop. Nevertheless, I did still feel like I was able to experience full-time work and differentiate with downtime. Even though the office walls weren’t there, the structure, schedule and accountability were. Therefore, as good as an in-person experience would have been, remote internships like this one provide good preparation for a future world of work. A world of work that is looking more and more towards remote and virtual spaces.

The Long Term Impact?

The success of an internship can be measured in a number of ways: skills gained by the intern, long-term career trajectory of the intern, and benefits gained by the provider, for example.  However, much of what endures long after the internship is the ‘soft’ skills the intern develops in what might be their first exposure to a corporate environment. 

A good note to end on might be this, from SUMS’ first intern (2018) Rachelle Wong, now working in market research for NielsenIQ, who recently had the following reflection on her internship experience: 

“In my internship at SUMS/SUPC, I had the opportunity to work in an open and inclusive environment, where I was treated like family. It was a fantastic atmosphere to learn and build on my marketing and communications skills – everyone was so welcoming and willing to teach me new things. I’ve taken this experience with me throughout my career, and now try to foster a similar environment within my team. I would not have realised the importance of a positive and supportive environment if not for my internship at SUMS/SUPC. Thank you so for much the opportunity!”

For those looking to support interns, contact your local university careers department or consider working with a virtual internship provider.