May 26, 2020 - Economy & Business

Students embark on internships from home

An illustration of a computer with a mask on

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

School's out for college kids, and it's internship season — but just as the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted all other types of work, it's roiling internships, too.

The big picture: Some internships have been canceled completely, and other firms are figuring out ways to make the experience totally remote. Either way, millions of students are losing out on valuable work and life experience this summer.

What's happening: Tech companies like Google and PayPal can take the practical work components of internships and move them online, but companies and agencies that require security clearances and can't allow students to take work home can't offer internships this summer. Neither can programs in the hard sciences or performing arts.

  • And even for those tech internships, stripping away the opportunities to socialize and network in person changes the experience, says Tim Agnew, head of PayPal's recruitment efforts and internship program.
  • PayPal — which is running a fully remote internship program this summer — is making up for some of that lost socialization with trivia nights and small group meetings among interns.

One bit of silver lining: "[T]he rise of the virtual internship could bring something good to Silicon Valley: a work experiment that strips away some of the industry's built-in biases," Bloomberg's Shelly Banjo writes.

  • "For starters, not requiring interns to be able to afford pricey rent in the Bay Area or other tech hubs could make jobs more accessible."
  • "Metrics-driven digital-only hiring could allow people making hiring decisions to excise prejudice."
  • "And in a digital workplace, bosses will have to judge interns mainly on their output, not their social performance or how well they fit into existing cliques."

What to watch: I asked Agnew if PayPal might make remote internships a permanent fixture for those who want the option.

  • It's very possible, he says. "We pivoted our entire program within a matter of weeks. We’re gonna learn things this year that we aren’t even aware of yet."
  • But typically students want the experience of coming to Silicon Valley and seeing if they'd want to be there long term. That element of internships won't go away.
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