​Employability in the New Normal - The Role of Internships​

​While Virtual Internships are gaining increasing popularity, due to the pandemic, many institutions and students were initially skeptical as to their value and worth, not to mention their long term viability. For AKU, implementing a pilot project was an experiment to test and understand the value of virtual learning and if similar experiences gained on on-site internships could be replicated. 

Towards the end of the pilot phase of our programme this year, a survey was conducted to better understand our interns’ perspectives on the value of virtual internships, what they had learned, and whether they would do it all over again if given the chance. Of 65 interns, 36 shared their insights and views on how their virtual internship experiences became fundamental to their skill development and growth.

The survey showed that interns built strong skills around communication and flexibility, open-mindedness, networking, and leadership among others. They learned how to manage their time efficiently, work with minimal hands-on supervision, and received one-on-one mentorship. The programme facilitated a professional development component through workshops and webinars. 92% of our interns agreed that their internship experience allowed them to gain the relevant skills needed to become successful remote workers. These are all important skills in the post-pandemic era with many jobs, schooling, and overall engagement moving into virtual spaces. 

For 83% of our interns, relevant work experience was a key takeaway for them that they see using in the future. 86% of them felt they have achieved their personal and professional development goals by the end of their internships. One intern, Parisa from the University of British Columbia, noted that she “believe[s] that the virtual internship placement is almost a real insider look on what work experiences might be like in the future”.

A key characteristic of on-site internships is the opportunity for interns to easily network with a wide variety of colleagues across the institution and the local community. The programme has shown how these opportunities are still possible in the virtual landscape today. Interns still managed to interact with each other from around the world during virtual coffee chats where they shared their current projects. Many worked with teams across multiple countries on diverse projects with their mentors and got to interact and learn from AKDN colleagues through workshops and webinars. Simple things such as time differences, poor connectivity, and power outages in our parts of the world showcased real issues in real-time for many interns.  In fact, the virtual platform provided a space for interns and mentors to become more creative in how they connect during a time of uncertainty and isolation. 

With this range of geographical locations and their ability to network with each other, 77% of our interns felt that they have improved their intercultural skills, with 86% of our interns noting increased capabilities in navigating intercultural dynamics, and 78% of them feeling that they gained wider awareness about other cultures and geographies. Furthermore, our survey results proved that our virtual interns managed to develop the same skills as on-site interns did in the past, and uniquely become more confident about working remotely and internationally in the future.

Virtual internships are here to stay and continue to pave the way for our interns to not only gain unique global experiences but also feel professionally prepared to secure work in the future. Over 86% of our interns felt that they have contributed to meaningful work during their internship, resulting in positive experiences, and 86% of them expressing great interest in staying connected with AKU and the larger AKDN, where some of our own programme alumni have secured employment after their internships. With over 88% of interns noting that they would recommend the VIP to others, and with remarkable staff support, technical resources, and mentor guidance, the virtual realm seems to promise a great global opportunity for our interns.​