Student Internship Challenges in the Time of COVID-19

Grace WONG
Department of Real Estate
School of Design and Environment

Grace talks about the far-reaching impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on her internship modules, in particular the challenges confronting participating employers and her students and some ways her team sought to address them.

Photo courtesy of Victor He from Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the way we live, work and play in many unexpected and unprecedented ways. In this post, I document the events and challenges that might influence students’ learning journeys as interns in the real estate industry.

Two colleagues at the Department of Real Estate and I have been managing two student internship modules (RE4801 “Real Estate Internship Programme” and RE3000 “Work Experience Internship”) that were scheduled for the May to July 2020 period.

From January to early March 2020, employers from both the private and public sectors were still very enthusiastic about and supportive of the Department’s internship programme. However, after the World Health Organization’s announcement on 11 March 2020 that the COVID-19 situation had escalated into a full-blown pandemic, some employers decided to opt out of the programme. 24% of employers withdrew their participation in the wake of the Singapore government’s 7 April circuit breaker measures. Subsequently, when the circuit breaker measures were extended to 1 June, employers rescinded 12.5% of the earlier 76% of internship offers to students. This series of events culminated in a reduction of more than one-third of internship placements compared to 2019, and presented considerable challenges for both students and employers.

Following on are my observations on the challenges encountered by employers and students, namely those who had internship positions and those who did not during the period between May and August.

Challenges for employers

  • Due to the instituting of the COVID-19 Business Continuity Plan to stagger work hours, split staff into teams and incorporate safe distancing within offices, employers indicated that they might not be able to engage their interns in as many work activities as they would like.
  • As the circuit breaker measures constrained movement and interaction, employers were unable to offer jobs or tasks requiring visits to various sites or interactions with different groups of people.
  • Since work-from-home initiatives are required under the circuit breaker measures, employers were concerned that they would not be able to guide interns and monitor their work adequately for a fruitful learning experience.
Photo courtesy of Vlada Karpovich from Pexels

Challenges for students who secured summer internships

  • Students highlighted that their learning exposure might be compromised in terms of acquiring knowledge about the employers’ corporate culture and teamwork at the workplace since they were required to work from home.
  • With regard to assessment, students expressed concern about how employers would monitor or evaluate their work performance given the lack of in-person and on-site interaction.
  • Students were worried that employers might even terminate their internship prematurely if the pandemic worsens, thereby disrupting their learning progress and falling short of the required internship duration as specified by the module.

Challenges for students who did not secure summer internships

  • In view of the dire employment situation brought about by the pandemic, students were apprehensive that the lack of an internship experience would adversely affect their employment prospects after graduation.
  • Students were anxious about how their academic progression and graduation plans might be affected if they could not take a summer module to clear credits. The Department addressed these concerns through the launch of an elective summer module as a replacement module for those students who urgently needed to clear credits.
  • Some students’ financial circumstances could be impacted since they or their family might be in need of the income from the internship to alleviate any repercussions brought on by the pandemic.

Conclusion

This blog was penned in mid-May 2020 and since then, more work-related changes have occurred during this volatile time of COVID-19. Students who have secured an internship will have to learn to work independently, manage their time responsibly, as well as acquire skills and knowledge in a non-traditional workplace since the majority of the workforce are expected to work from home. At the same time, those who did not secure an internship will likely embark on a different learning journey that nurtures a resilient mindset, realistic expectations as well as an adaptability to change, through pursuing a wide range of other options such as academic research, summer electives, and entrepreneurial enterprises.

 

Grace WONG is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Real Estate in the School of Design and Environment, NUS. She has taught a wide range of core, elective and GEM modules, and was inducted into the NUS Annual Teaching Excellence Award: Honour Roll (2011–2015). Besides teaching, she also contributes to curriculum design, development and administration in the Department. Her publications, which focus on her pedagogical initiatives, are featured in Ideas on Teaching, CDTL Brief, CDTLink, as well as in conferences such as the Second Symposium on Teaching & Learning in Higher Education and Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Conference.

Grace can be reached at rstgwong@nus.edu.sg.