Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Ford has reinforced its commitment to the future leaders of the company by offering a virtual program for its more than 600 college interns, who this year represent more than 150 schools across the U.S. The newest class of students is beginning to log on remotely, as they embark on a program that has been refined to help them grow professionally and contribute to Ford’s success.
Outside of the usual business activities and training sessions, the interns will gather virtually for events such as trivia, yoga and mindfulness, as well as a design thinking workshop. “Ask me anything” sessions will even include company executives such as Executive Chairman Bill Ford.
Hosting a remote 10- to 12-week internship program would have been unthinkable before last year, but Ford’s human resources team not only adapted, but received positive reviews from participants along with feedback on potential improvements. In April of last year – at a time when many companies were cancelling their programs altogether – Ford quickly transitioned to a virtual program.
Organizers had to adapt to the new format, making changes on the fly, such as the addition of an IT help desk in the second week. They also learned how to make the program more agile – moving group meetings to times that better accommodated interns in other time zones. A mix of live and self-guided activities, such as Degreed interactive online learning, plugged any gaps in student schedules.
“Last summer was a good experience, but we know interns are expecting, and we can provide, an even better one this summer,” said Emily Sutherland, employer branding and customer experience supervisor, talent acquisition.
The shift to virtual internships also required buy-in from people leaders – each skill team has interns – with some initially hesitant about the virtual format, Sutherland explained. But by summer’s end, the vast majority had a favorable opinion.
Remote summer internships could be here to stay, as Ford transitions to a hybrid work model for the future of work. Some positions, such as those in manufacturing, will always be place-dependent.
Social ambassadorship added
Columbia University graduate student Ebony Richardson won’t begin her internship until June 1, but she’s already eager to share her experience at Ford with the world. Richardson, a Charlotte, North Carolina, native, will intern with the credit analytics team in global data insights and analytics (GDI&A). She will be part of an experimental new group of approximately 50 interns who will serve as social ambassadors, sharing their experiences at Ford throughout the summer on social media.
Richardson is looking forward to learning about the auto industry and how statistics can be used to solve real-world problems. Having just completed her first year of graduate school, she is in the applied analytics program in the school of professional studies. Ultimately, she hopes to work in any field related to data as an analyst or scientist.
“As a social ambassador, I can use my platform to answer people’s questions about data analysts and careers and help grow awareness of the data field,” said Richardson. “The data field is ever-evolving. There are so many different skills needed and they all work together.”
The initiative came about as a result of a discussion on how human resources could handle social media work differently with this year’s interns. Participants were selected following an intern survey, and they will meet virtually each day to discuss ideas. Intern influencers will be moderated by Brandy Joe Plambeck, social media manager, talent acquisition and branding, who will work with them to curate social posts that showcase their experiences as Ford interns.
“We’re giving them some guidelines, but we’re looking to expand the storytelling of the intern program,” said Plambeck. “We’ve always used hashtags, but now we’re actively looking for social ambassadors.”
Ford will also share the content created by the group on its own social media networks, while the interns will help collect videos and photos for promotional materials about the Ford internship program.
“It helps tell the story of what our internship program is really like in this virtual world,” said Plambeck. “It’s a way to empower our interns to tell their stories. We’re giving them the opportunity to come together to curate their stories online.”
Regardless of the content interns share, a noticeable difference from previous years will be photos and videos of other interns. In-person gatherings used to inspire the bulk of an intern’s posts. “Now, we’re more focused on their personal lives than on their collective group lives,” said Plambeck. “It’s a little more about the individual than the comradery of coming together. We are all connecting more through social media and we’re encouraging that.”