Global internship programs can serve multiple purposes at once: Fill the talent acquisition pipeline with people who are culturally competent at a regional or country level and capable of applying the skills to promote organizational success.
— By Jill Motley
Internships are experiential learning that integrates academic learning and theory with practical application and skills development in a business or other professional setting. They have been elevated over the years from “free student labour” for organizations to true mutual value-creating programs that help fill the talent acquisition pipeline. Companies hire up to 96 percent of their interns, reflecting the careful design of the program and selection of program participants.
Global organizations have an additional goal to identify and develop talent able to perform at a high level in a global setting. The challenge is creating an internship program that is globally cohesive while incorporating requirements specific to the country or region.
Internships take many forms today and are no longer limited to students still in universities, colleges, or technical schools. Interns may be people just starting their careers or even people already working for an organization who are looking for a path for career advancement in a different division or a new career in a different industry.
Each organization decides on the requirements based on their needs. While all internship programs develop intern skills, a global internship program offers the advantage of giving interns opportunities to develop cultural competency and relationship building within different cultures.
Successful global internship programs are focused on two main goals: Develop potential talent that can successfully work in culturally different settings while also developing the skills to succeed as a member of the larger organization.
Dell developed an internship program that has general requirements applicable to all interns, but it is flexible enough that it can be adapted to intern positions in different countries.
Various organizations structure their global internship programs to meet their needs.
KPMG makes it clear they are not offering a job shadow program. Global interns are assigned to client engagement teams and work with company professionals. They are mentored through the program. Interns get hands-on global work experience while also learning how to make connections with diverse people, from local employees to customers.
Interns placed in global positions must learn to work in a foreign culture while adhering to organizational values.
German software company SAP employed 1,000 interns in 18 cities across six countries and was ranked highly on the 2019 WayUp survey. They earned this distinction because the company provides interns the best technology and empowers them with permission to be bold. Global interns receive mentoring with leaders, project-based work, opportunities to attend social and networking events, and online and in-person training and skill-based volunteer opportunities. The program has what it calls X factors. The first three are perseverance, innovation (i.e. solve problems, willing to fail forward) and initiative (i.e. drive your own career, self-challenging). The intern defines the fourth personal X factor which recognizes each person has different strengths the internship can build on, like empathy, being a team player, or assertiveness.
The Dell two-year Finance Development Program gives entry-level undergraduates selected for the program four six-month global finance rotational assignments and an MBA-type curriculum, networking opportunities, pairing with seasonal mentors, development workshops and sessions, robust performance feedback, and career development planning. Interns who complete the program are promoted and given international opportunities.
Measuring intern progress is important to ensuring each person is growing their cultural competence and organizational knowledge. Outcomes fall within five areas which are interpersonal, personal, employment, academic, and community. Metrics should address each of these areas.
For a global internship program, there are two layers within each area. One is at the global organizational level and one is at the country or regional level. For example, interpersonal outcomes concern ability to build positive and productive relationships with others. It also encompasses personal beliefs about others, so it embraces respect and ability to work with diverse persons. Interns in global programs develop relationship skills that enable them to collaborate and work with organizational leaders and teams, and to collaborate and work with people in different cultures.
Outcomes measurements include metrics on knowledge and organizational skills learned through the internship program, specific job skills attained, networking success, cultural awareness, social responsibility, sense of community and community engagement, problem solving ability, and a host of other factors that are of importance to the organizational and the intern. Interns placed in global positions must learn to work in a foreign culture while adhering to organizational values.
Specific metrics can assess factors like growth in cultural intelligence, innovation development, new learning, networking skills, collaborative skills, teamwork and leadership skills.
Measuring progress at the local level and organizational level ensures the global internship program is appropriately structured and meeting intern and organizational needs. The particular metrics employed depend on the unique needs of the organization. The program can have a global set of metrics with a subsection that applies to the intern’s specific location.
Learning From Global Internship Programs
Successful global internship programs have common characteristics and serve as guides for program development.
One is developing an extremely careful selection process that identifies people most likely to thrive when faced with international business challenges. An intern is assigned a specific role, with the program tailored to the intern’s skill set, career aspirations, and experience. Interns are empowered to explore their competences and perform valuable work for the organization. They are challenged to be adaptable while developing cultural intelligence and exploring skills growth in various settings.
Successful programs have a well-defined curriculum that includes work time, workshops and seminars, online meetings with organizational leaders, classes, and event attendance. Interns are encouraged to network with people in the community, too, often through volunteer work. Set clear expectations and provide regular feedback.
Above all, be sure to give global interns the support and resources they need to make a real business impact. Interns need a smooth transition into the program and support in getting started on the right foot. For example, Dell’s finance internship program offers a Finance Boot Camp the first week which provides instruction on accessing their technologies, networking opportunities with other interns, and Q&A sessions with top executives.
Help the global interns quickly become productive, and during the rest of the program they can deliver true value to the organization while developing a variety of skills.