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A look at how internship programs in the pharma industry have changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In November 2019, I wrote an article for Pharmaceutical Executive about the value of comprehensive recruitment cycles and the importance of incorporating early talent initiatives within an overarching staffing strategy. Despite the onset of uncertainty due to COVID-19, the value of effectively navigating the future of talent has not changed. However, the course is no longer clearly charted. The pandemic has created a great deal of change for everyone. And it is clear that student workers, and the pharma internship programs they and the pharma industry rely upon, are not immune from the impact.
According to a survey conducted in April 2020 by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), 22% of respondents planned to retract internship offers for the summer. Despite new challenges, it is vital to our future pharma workforce that we continue to prepare and professionally develop early talent. While there is uncertainty surrounding the economy and many companies are cutting their budgets, the good news is that there is a virtual space for internship programs and pharma companies are among the many organizations making this shift.
When it comes to innovation, pharma has always been ahead of the curve. So, it's not at all surprising that this standard extends to their people resources. We are not only seeing the adoption of virtual internship programming within the industry but also the sponsorship of meaningful, inclusive virtual environments that cultivate greater opportunity for underrepresented student workers.
“We’ve always been proud of our internship program and the opportunity it offers young people,” says Sally Susman, Pfizer’s executive vice president and chief corporate affairs officer, in a client testimonial. “Our CEO, Albert Bourla, had the idea that we should set an ambition to have more than half of the students hired from sources we haven’t actively recruited from before, and to find young people for whom this summer job could be life changing. Atrium was crucial to helping us achieve that bold goal.”
Internships can succeed from anywhere. For an all-inclusive approach to intern program (re)design, pharmaceutical companies must assess, progress, and create a pipeline for their programming. Virtual programming is not all that different from a traditional internships. However, there are new needs to consider, especially regarding onboarding, equipment, and staying connected. Here are a few steps that pharma can take to successfully implement virtual internship programs:
It’s important to build the necessary resources before embarking on a virtual intern program (re)design. While making adjustments may seem overwhelming, companies such as Atrium offer services to help guide that transformation. By empowering technology to optimize program goals, experts can provide structure to leverage diverse talent populations and build virtual events that instill a much-needed sense of belonging within student worker communities. Pairing intern programs with technology, business intelligence software, and engagement solutions such as those offered by Symba, a partner of Atrium, can help ensure remote intern program success.
Virtual internship programs are not a placebo—they should be considered a benefit that has the potential for long-lasting positive effects on the pharma industry and its future talent pipeline. According to NACE's April 2020 survey, the number of employers moving to virtual programs grew from 36% at the beginning of April to 46% by the end of the month. As adoption of these programs grows and they are no longer bound by space and time, pharma companies have the opportunity to open their global doors and welcome a wider population of interns to their roster.
Rebecca Cenni-Leventhal is founder and CEO of Atrium