Creativity in crisis: How to take summer internship programs digital

In the face of the current COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses are being challenged to think creatively and work virtually. For The Droster Team at RBC Wealth Management, that includes revamping our summer internship program that we have hosted for 30 years to accommodate a remote student intern.

Three of our current team members did internships with RBC Wealth Management while attending UW–Madison and were hired to a full-time position on our team upon graduation. I am one of them! Our team was built on a core value of educating students and introducing them to the advisory field with a dynamic and hands-on experience.

Well, this year the hands-on part has been put on hold. Maybe that’s a good thing! As we all prepared to work from home for the foreseeable future, we thought about what would need to be done to still give our student intern, Lauren, a robust internship experience. Lauren is a UW–Madison student studying personal finance. She left campus and returned to her home in California in early March to finish out her spring semester with online classes. Now that she has completed her finals, she is diving into our remote summer internship.

If you have hosted internship programs in the past or want to start one and are looking for ways to host it virtually, here are some insights into how our team tackled this new challenge:

Stay accountable to the objectives of the internship — This is true for both the student intern and the business leaders hosting them. We have outlined 15 things we want to be sure our interns know well by the end of the summer. Every year, we give our intern a list of objectives or topics and decide who on our team is best aligned to teach each one. Market volatility and economic uncertainty have been high and our team has been busier than ever, working diligently to communicate with clients. Yet each team member is still committed to carving out time to teach, and Lauren is being proactive about requesting time on our calendars for Webex screen-sharing sessions.

Create flexibility in team meeting times to continue to foster collaboration — As I mentioned above, Lauren lives in California and is working in Pacific time. That means she is two hours behind us. So, we needed to be flexible and adjust our team meetings, along with certain client engagements, to be sure she was included. Another core value for The Droster Team is collaboration. We talk through potential strategies to help clients and bounce ideas off one another, creating a team culture that allows for asking questions and sharing ideas freely. We find that leads to better outcomes for our clients. So, our daily team meeting needed to be pushed back to later in the day so that we weren’t asking poor Lauren to wake up at sunrise in California to participate.

Take a step back and think big picture: Less busy work, more strategy — Internships often include some level of busy work that is not specific to the field the student is studying such as filing, answering phones, Excel spreadsheets, etc. But now that interns are not physically in the office, that is significantly reduced. More so than ever, teams have the ability to take a step back, assess their strategy, and build new projects to reach their goals with the help of interns. Our team leadership hosted a strategy session in late May to talk about how we are progressing on our annual goals and specific activities that we want to prioritize for the second half of the year. Some of our strategic planning resulted in new projects that our intern can help us execute. This is beneficial because the added work won’t be shared among team members that are already juggling work and childcare at home. Also, it gives our intern the opportunity to see the need for adaptability and to be part of our strategic priorities. One of the greatest lessons internships can teach is how to be part of a team and execute based on each member’s strengths.

Demonstrate a commitment to life-long learning — Interns can teach business leaders a lot about technology and the perspective of their generation. Last year, RBC Wealth Management hosted a “reverse-mentorship” program with our interns in our home office. Rather than just following the traditional internship model that has experienced senior team members teaching interns about financial services, our program included a component where senior leaders took the time to listen to and learn from our interns! The interns shared creative ideas and new ways of approaching financial services to reach current and future clients. 

Internships can truly change careers and lives. Again, as a former intern for my team I can attest to that. While the current environment is posing many economic and logistical challenges, it is also providing opportunities. I would say one of the greatest silver linings is that geography is no longer stopping businesses from engaging top talent.

Beth Norman, CFP, AWM, is managing director and a financial advisor with The Droster Team at RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets LLC, member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC.

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