Students are usually accepted onto a program with the third party provider and although the host company may not be immediately known to the student, when it comes to sourcing placements the student is usually paired or matched with an organization within the provider’s network of vetted partners. This enables most providers to guarantee a placement as they will match the student with a company that has been onboarded by the provider.

Quality programs should have a wrap-around curriculum to support the student at all stages of the virtual program: pre-internship to prepare them, during to support them, and post-program to help them articulate the experience. Such programs should also have intentionally-designed touchpoints that build a virtual community and provide structure: online webinars, weekly hangouts with fellow interns, as well as career coaching sessions will benefit students on virtual programs.

Insight/Simulation Model:

Programs falling in the Insight Model are typically short in duration and emulate what working for a specific organization would be like. They usually include a real-life simulation of life as an employee or trainee at the host organization. Tasks are similar to in-tray exercises used in recruitment, but the pressure is removed as students can usually complete the program in their own time. 

This is a fantastic way for a student to gain specific industry knowledge, usually disseminated by a large organization. The experience can be leveraged in future job applications to firms within that particular sector. However, it is very limited in scope and provides insight only – it’s certainly not an academically rigorous internship that would satisfy a course requirement, but they do provide an excellent looking glass into future careers.

These tend to be the most popular models for high school virtual job shadows/work experiences. 

Gig-Economy/Micro Internships Model:

This model is very much in line with the Future of Work trends. The Gig Economy has boomed: an estimated 43% of the US workforce participates in the gig economy and over 90% would consider freelancing or independent contracting

Some providers have emerged that specifically cater to students who are searching for short, bite-sized pieces of work. These so-called micro-internships are professional assignments that can be completed remotely. 

The assignments reflect a host organization’s business needs that they wish to outsource to readily available students and graduates who have the appropriate skills to complete the tasks. This could be a research project, copywriting, editing, graphic design, and more. 

This enables an organization to get work done without the need to directly hire staff, whilst also providing the student valuable, project-based work experience that they can add to their resume/CV. 

However, this model is organization-driven and managed. It is likely that projects posted will receive a flurry of applications from eager students. The organization retains complete control over who is awarded the work. The more qualified and proactive students can build their portfolio and snap up assignments, leaving those looking for experience without the guarantee of an internship.

How can virtual internships boost the student’s experience?

Virtual Internships, combined with in-person experiences make for the ultimate well-rounded student. Virtual Internships upskill students with digital competencies relevant for the future of work, encourage students to be independent and autonomous with the trust that comes with working remotely and crucially, allows students to gain international experience without the restrictions of travel and cost. For students who may be looking to study or work internationally in the future, developing intercultural awareness in a professional context is a fantastic addition to your resume and college application. 

The added benefit of a Virtual Internship program is that students are provided with a structured feedback loop, ensuring they receive feedback each week from their host company and are provided frequent touchpoints to reflect on their own experience, the skills they are developing and how these will benefit them in the future.