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How can college students prepare for the post-pandemic workplace?

Today, we interview our Global Internships Manager, Adrian van der Velden, on how students can prepare for the workplace.

Written by

Sigrid Kenmuir

The world of work is changing and no-one knows it better than the college students of today. Whereas their parents would have expected to go into an office every day to do their jobs, these students have experienced the sea-change that the global COVID-19 pandemic has wrought since 2020.

Today, we talk to Adrian van der Velden, our Global Internships Manager, to get his perspective on the ways the workplace has changed and what students can do to prepare themselves for their future careers.

So, Adrian, how long have you worked with college students and companies setting up internships? 

I’ve been with iXperience since 2018 – more than half of its existence! Since I started, iX has evolved its internships offering every year, adapting and changing in reaction to global trends and industry needs. It hasn’t always been easy; we’ve had some real mountains to climb in the last few years that have complicated how internships are run, what our partner companies want and need, and how iX fits into it all. 

Still, we keep our minds open to how best to bring college students into the fold in terms of work readiness, even when things are somewhat unconventional! Luckily, I’ve had experience working with students even before working at iX – I’ve been an educator abroad, as well as a career coach, and I’ve dedicated my own career to better understanding the art of preparedness. It’s who I am at my core.

Have you noticed any changes that seem to be permanent, with regard to modes of working?

Work has changed fundamentally since 2020. It’s the reality that we all face. We all came to the realization – roughly halfway through 2020 – that the changes we had started to see would be long-lasting, or even permanent. Today, we’re in a position where many businesses are playing around with those changes in an effort to make them as mutually beneficial – for both employees and employers – as possible. 

“It’s a great time to be an intern!”

Internships, in particular, have seen some of the biggest shifts in their format, since so many businesses were pushed to the limits by the pandemic and had to reassess their priorities. Luckily, internships are emerging again as a key part of businesses’ recruitment and skills development strategies, so it’s a great time to be an intern!

Some important aspects of interning that have changed since 2020 center on their format and geography. Previously, interns would be much like other members of a full-time team: onboarded, given premises access, provided with desk space and so on. Today, there’s a lot of work going into understanding how companies everywhere have diversified their intern intake by going either fully remote or at least hybrid. 

“Hosting interns in person is just not worth it.”

Going into an office full-time is extraordinarily rare now – there are reports by the likes of PwC, the OECD, many think tanks and labor groups, which largely point towards the same outcomes. All of this is for good reason; hosting interns in person is often just not worth a company’s resources. Arranging work space, meeting the whole team, building access, physical administrative support (like using printing services and so on) are cumbersome, especially for a short-term effort.

“With remote work, remote interns are the way forward.” 

Remote interns can be onboarded quickly and jump right into their assigned work. In addition, talent is very distributed: the pandemic has taught us that the best talent isn’t central to one part of the world. There are super bright people everywhere, and businesses genuinely wanting to get ahead are opening themselves up to a much more international workforce. Gone are the days of your classmates being your only competition when vying for a position at a big firm. Today, the most skilled people all over the world have just as much of a shot at a top spot as you do. This is one of the main reasons that learning to adapt to remote and hybrid work early is so crucial.

Has there been any push-back from companies as you try to place interns, due to their modes of working?

The global post-pandemic shift in working patterns has brought about a new appreciation for work/life balance – which is an overwhelmingly positive development! But, of course, it does come with its own set of challenges. 

While we at iX always do our utmost to make sure that the internship experience is as enriching as possible, partner companies often need us to be as flexible as they are as far as modes of working are concerned. Even for our in-city internships, it sometimes happens that while the manager is in the same city as the students, they rarely meet in person – if at all. With so many businesses choosing to drop their physical working spaces in favor of a work-from-home setup, there remains a strong preference amongst companies to keep to a remote model as far as possible. It’s really all about balance, and that balance is different for every business.

And how have students felt about these changes? 

After two years of having to stay at home – two crucial, formative years, that is – what we see is a very strong desire for students to connect with workplaces and managers in-person, wherever possible. Getting out into the world, physically, is top of the agenda for many. This desire is entirely understandable, and that’s why iX Abroad has been as successful as it has been. 

“There’s a perception that remote internships are less valuable.”

But, of course, having to accommodate a broad variety of internship partner companies’ working styles has meant that some students get more in-person time than others. As I’m sure is easy to imagine, that comes with a measure of frustration all round. There is, after all, a (somewhat misguided) perception that remote working experience is less valuable than in-person experience. 

The reality is that the soft skills needed for in-person work – the ability to communicate effectively, work as a team, collaborate across departments, engage meaningfully with a business’ mission – are still present in remote working scenarios, albeit in adjusted ways. 

“We’re going in a very positive direction as far as remote and hybrid work is concerned.”

But there is good news: we’re still fresh out of the pandemic, and there’s still going to be a period of cooling off and settling into the routines of hybrid working; as this rhythm becomes more established, there are strong indications that everyone is moving towards being on the same page over time. I’m highly optimistic that we’re going in a very positive direction as far as the perceptions of remote and hybrid working are concerned. The benefits are very clear.

If there was anything that you could share with companies and college students, regarding internships and working modes, what would it be?

From the perspective of someone who facilitates internships and works between the companies who host our students and the students themselves, my plea is the same to both sides:

“Keep an open mind, and communicate.”

This is an extraordinarily exciting time to be entering the workforce, and the possibilities for connecting with global talent are greater than ever. Both students and companies all over the world can benefit massively from collaborating on defining the future of work. There is no need for the archaic ‘nine-to-five’ that wears workers out and keeps people locked away in offices unnecessarily; open, meaningful communication and an openness to one another’s needs and expectations can do wonders for building partnerships between businesses and the people who work in them that are even stronger than before. 

The ‘Great Resignation’ of 2022 has taught us this: as workers all over the world – spurred largely by the movement in the US – shamelessly leave low-paying, rigid workplaces in favor of more flexibility and meaningful pay, the corporate universe is being forced to the negotiating table. The results are fantastic. As long as businesses are able to listen to the needs of their teams – and teams themselves are able to understand the needs of businesses – we can all enact a culture shift globally that will be felt, and appreciated, for generations to come.

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