24 July, 2020
24 July, 2020
The research is clear. There is an evident skills gap in young college graduates who have all the latest technical knowledge but are lacking when it comes to transferable soft skills. Jaime Fall, vice president at the HR Policy Association aptly states “They’re really good at technology, but not at how to take classroom skills and resolve specific business problems.” As helpful as academic knowledge and analytical capabilities obtained through higher education are, employers are looking for those irresistible soft skills that won’t be obsolete in ten years.
So how do you develop these soft skills? The short answer is Internships! Internships have long been established as an important means of gaining a competitive edge in the job market. However, with the changing nature of education platforms, a rise in virtual workforces and global pandemics that prevent physical relocation, innovative models are replacing old internship models. One such innovation is virtual internships, which give students a comprehensive education by providing them with access to experiential learning opportunities. These virtual programs allow individuals to become globally minded, minimize mobility barriers and encourage working alongside diverse team members. Most importantly though, they act as a bridge between theory and practice, closing the much-dreaded skills gap.
Employers need to know what you can do for them. Can you work well with teams? Make prompt decisions and problem solve effectively? Handle ambiguity and uncertainty? Here are ways how you can leverage virtual internships to build employable skills and competencies that will not only help you graduate with a shiny degree but also with job offers rolling in!
1) Communication (Written and Verbal)
Multiple research papers and studies done by various publications consistently rank communication as THE most important skill. Billionaire Warren Buffet says: “Communications skills are the first area I would work on to enhance your value throughout life”.
And a global internship is a perfect platform for you to build these skills. A remote internship provides participants with a cross-border, collaborative learning experience. The removal of physical barriers means ANYONE can access such experiences online and balance the internships with academic and other commitments. The global accessibility of such programs attracts a diverse student body which automatically forces the need for better communication. The interns will interact with various stakeholders – fellow interns, supervisors and other colleagues – all of whom have different backgrounds and hold diverse perspectives. This unique academic format will give you a taste of what it is like to present yourself in a real-world professional context.
The ability to effectively communicate your ideas is invaluable as HR managers don’t expect young graduates to have vast technical knowledge but certainly expect you to be able to present your ideas and thoughts. If you don’t believe us, just know that the ONLY credential that Warren Buffet has displayed in his office is his public speaking course graduation certificate!
Interpersonal skills include everything from working with internal teams and departments to collaborating with diverse external stakeholders. This is important to future employers because they need to know if you can contribute productively to existing teams and foster positive relationships with clients and vendors. The good news for recent graduates is that whatever your major might be, teamwork is something you already have experience in. Think about it…all those group presentations and endless meetings over your lunch breaks? Yup, those were all moments where you polished up your interpersonal skills!
Now it is just a matter of applying these skills in a workplace setting – and virtual internships are a great way to do this! By undertaking a remote internship, you’re guaranteed to be part of an inclusive community. These associations with colleagues, supervisors and interns will help you develop listening, mediation and resolution skills. As you apply your subject matter expertise at the organization you’re paired with, you’ll be exercising social negotiation skills and picking up on how to facilitate smooth team functioning. With virtual workforces expanding, the ability to productively interact with people through a screen is a unique skill that employers are increasingly looking out for.
3) Problem Solving
‘Creative Problem Solving’ is one of those popular buzzwords that you’ve surely come across on job postings! But if creativity is so subjective, what really does this term mean? You’ll be relieved to know that you’re not expected to invent the wheel, but rather adapt to changing environments and confront complex challenges at a workplace.
Picture this. You’ve just started a virtual internship with an NGO in India that focuses on providing healthcare resources to small villages. Understanding the needs of rural communities, brainstorming methods to provide them with necessary facilities and navigating a different, complex culture are just some of the problems you’ll be encountering. These opportunities give you a chance to build your logical and emotional problem-solving skills on the job, while enabling you to share and learn innovative practices in a global context.
With technological changes, rapidly growing competition and a hyper fast-paced world, creative problem solving is the primary tool that will help you stay ahead of the curve. By identifying problems vs. symptoms and actively researching during your internship, you’ll be able to hone this skill in no time.
4) Decision Making
With rapid technological transformations, big data and artificial intelligence taking over workplaces, vast amounts of information are readily available at out fingertips. The job of crunching the numbers, has been take over by the bots. It is only after this stage that we humans step in to extract insights from the data and make decisions based on these insights.
A professional workplace setting is an endless series of decision making, ranging from purchasing the office coffee supply to deciding which clients to work with. Project-based virtual internships will place you in situations where you will be entrusted with making important decisions. They could be as trivial as picking a font or deciding on the right strategy for a product roll out. Although this might be daunting at first, it will prepare you for your first real job, where thoughtful but swift decision making is essential to keep up with the 21st century workplace.
Employers keep their eyes peeled for candidates who have good judgment and make sensible decisions, because decisions have the ability to alter the future of a company.
5) Work ethic
Having a good work ethic might seem pretty obvious. But there is a lot more to this seemingly vague concept than just showing up on time.
Recruiters expect young workers to be responsible for their work and most importantly, for themselves. Making sure you meet the expectations of a deliverable, managing your commitments and your workload are the foundational skills that are a MUST have.
You’ve certainly picked up on the importance of these skills during your college experience, but it’s a little different in a professional setting. A virtual internship will have you juggling multiple assignments, contemplating how you can achieve project goals and coping with a new organization culture. This is all part of building resilience, adaptability, perseverance and a strong work ethic. Consistently showing up and being willing to learn will be one of the biggest takeaways during your internship. It’s what shows employers that you are committed. It’s what makes you dependable.
Social learning theorists say it the best, “People learn from one another, via observation, imitation and modelling.” Virtual internships build on this constructivist learning model and provide interns with a platform to interpret, build and modify their understanding of reality by applying themselves to a workplace.
The growth of the soft skills gap is something all new graduates must reckon with in order to face the job market. Now that we have identified these soft skills, it is up to you to build these competencies. Since work experience is the crucial attribute that employers use to differentiate candidates, immersing yourself in the exciting world of virtual internships is a forward-thinking strategy that will pay off in no time.