This is a Q&A with Ativio Executive Vice President Susan Nierste about how their company benefits from virtual internships. Be sure to also check out our blog about the potential of virtual internships.
1. How long has Ativio been offering virtual internships? How many interns do you typically work with at one time?
We started in Fall 2011. More than 500 United States (domestic and foreign), African and Indian students have participated in the internship. The number of students working at the same time on teams varies. Our team sizes range between 8 – 12 on a team, plus team management.
2. Can you briefly explain how your virtual internships work? What work do your interns complete?
We have different levels of participation within the virtual team environment. We start out by teaching a class on how to work within international virtual team environments at area Indiana universities. In the classroom, the team works on a static project with their international counterparts. After the classroom for those who passed the class, we move the student into an unpaid mentorship role where they work on an Ativio internal project with international students. If the student is successful in the mentorship, we move them up into a paid internship working on approved client projects. All levels are managed and work validated by our profession team. Since the program is only a couple years old, we sometimes have to move students into mentorship or internships verses classroom to get them the experience. The student works virtually 8 hours a week using technology to accomplish a common goal with their team members. All international teams will have leadership positions. Typically, the United States interns will take on leadership and project management roles.
3. Why did you choose to offer virtual internships as opposed to traditional, in-office internships?
Ativio, LLC is a global company. We work in virtual environments all the time. We need students to graduate with knowledge on how the technology works, communication skills needed in international environments, planning skills used to keep the project on task and learning to work with the clock – all of which keeps the wheel turning and thus why we created GCi (The Global Center of Innovation). For new and second tier companies, traveling internationally can be a huge expense. We find we do not need to make unnecessary trips to our offices when we can use technology to accomplish our goals. We want and need our students to have this knowledge going into the professional world. The skills we teach are transferable skills within a domestic environment as well.
4. What advice would you give other employers for, 1) deciding if a virtual internship is right for them and 2) making it work well?
Teaching student interns international business skills is a lot of work and hand-holding. We expect the interns to act professionally. We also expect they will hit a wall or two. We step beside them to help pick them up, brush them off and get them back on the right path. Employers need to make time and the commitment to help the students learn professional skills. Since Ativio works this kind of virtual environment, we have the processes down. That comes from experience. Mainly we know what we need as a company from newly graduating students and we make the effort to share that knowledge with the students to help build their resumes and skills.