Posted August 22, 2020 by Mark Perna
What went well, what disappointed and what was learned. Mark’s article, “How Bank Of America Reinvented Their Internships—Virtually,” published at Forbes.com on August 18, 2020.
Though the economy is starting to get back on its feet, it’s going to be a long time before things return to any semblance of normal. And for young people just launching their careers, the challenges are real. Not only is it tough to land a job these days, there’s also career scarring to worry about once you do.
Despite these challenges, there are rays of hope. One such ray is Bank of America’s Student Leaders program, which pivoted to a remote model for 2020. The program identifies standout, community-minded high school students and connects them to paid summer nonprofit internships, alongside opportunities to develop further as young leaders through a national summit held in Washington, D.C. This year, it was all virtual.
Kerry Sullivan, President of the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, believes that programs like Student Leaders can make a real difference in young people’s preparation for the workforce.
“One of the things we focus on in our Student Leaders program is how to help young people build their skills in a professional setting—honing leadership and communications skills which will be valuable as they seek the next steps in their careers,” says Sullivan. “This kind of early work experience can also help bolster self-confidence in a safe and supported setting. They are not being thrown into a deep end, so we really see students come out on the other side feeling empowered and more self-assured in their abilities.”
Thanks to coronavirus, many companies took their summer internship programs virtual. This has created a unique dynamic in many organizations with managers and interns alike learning to navigate a new way of working. With so many programs experimenting with a virtual model, we have to ask: how is it going?
Sullivan believes the Bank of America Student Leaders virtual experience has had real value, both for the program and the students. “We’re truly entering a new world of work. If you asked me last year at this time whether or not this program would work virtually, I might have hesitated. But in this new normal, people have shown themselves to be incredibly adaptable.”In this new normal, people have shown themselves to be incredibly adaptable. Click To Tweet
One 2020 Student Leaders participant, Ahmad Khalil, appreciates the flexibility that the virtual experience offered. “One benefit of the online webinars is that it is spaced out over a course of weeks, so it lets us become comfortable with the program, come out from our ‘shells’ and really get a chance to interact with other peers and ask engaging questions to the speakers.”
“I think I’ve still received a lot of the same insights, experiences and mentorship that I would have gotten in person,” says Katherine Oung, another 2020 Student Leader. Further, she believes that the virtual experience has delivered benefits she may not otherwise have experienced. “I’ve met with a lot of different local non-profit leaders. I don’t think we would have had access to all of those great leaders had we been in a physical internship setting.”
But despite the benefits of a virtual model, there were things that just couldn’t be replicated virtually. “I was obviously disappointed that I would not be able to attend the Young Democracy Program in DC,” says Ibraheem Moosa, another 2020 Student Leader. “However, the virtual program has provided a lot of flexibility that has allowed me to focus on areas that I’m passionate about. I have still been able to make meaningful connections and friendships, listen to amazing speakers and learn more about Bank of America’s work with non-profit orgs.
“I think that there are pros and cons to this virtual experience.”
Sullivan adds, “Of course, we would rather be engaging with one another in person, but the virtual experience has been valuable for all of us and a true testament to everyone’s ability to adapt.”
For young people concerned about the impact of the recession on their future careers, opportunities like the Student Leader program can make a difference. When asked about their level of concern about career scarring, the students are thoughtful but cautiously optimistic.
“I think career scarring is definitely a concern, but there are a couple ways to mitigate it. The most important thing to do, especially in a time like this, is to pursue something you are truly passionate about and strive to be the best at it,” says Moosa. “If you are able to reach the top, especially in growing sectors like artificial intelligence or healthcare, then you will always be in demand.”
Khalil is unfazed. “If I work hard to get there, I see no reason why career scarring poses a significant threat to my future as it will just be another obstacle in my journey that I have to overcome.”
“I am a rising senior in high school, but this idea of career scarring is one that I’m definitely still worried about,” says Oung. “I see a lot of my peers who are a little older face so many career and life uncertainties due to the pandemic.
“Even with a college education, nothing is guaranteed.”Even with a college education, nothing is guaranteed. Click To Tweet
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that adaptability is the skill of the future.
“The virtual program has taught me how to adapt to new situations,” says Moosa. For Moosa and his fellow Gen-Zers, the shift to virtual was an opportunity to practice being flexible, choosing a positive attitude and making the most of adverse circumstances.
And if 2020 thus far is any indication of things to come, adaptability will be a critical career and life skill as Generation-Z moves through their education and into the workforce.If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that adaptability is the skill of the future. Click To Tweet