MARGRETTA MURPHY, MS, ASP, NRCC-CHO is an EHS manager at the University of Arizona and secretary of AIHA’s Student and Early Career Professionals Committee.
HOPE HEICHEL, MS, GSP, MPH, is an EHS manager at Sensory Effects and chair of AIHA’s Student and Early Career Professionals Committee.
Katherine Martin of the Student and Early Career Professionals Committee and AIHA members John Moore, Dina Siegel, Nicole Greeson, and Kathy Murphy contributed to this column.
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Support and Success for Remote Internships
In October 2020, the National Association of Colleges and Employers published the results of several polls revealing the impact of COVID-19 on internships and job recruitment (PDF). Out of over 400 employers surveyed, about 18 percent had revoked their 2020 internships by the end of April. Of those who continued their programs, more than 50 percent hosted their internships remotely. The remainder often reduced the number of interns accepted and the scope and number of projects they worked on. With nearly 80 percent of surveyed employers modifying their internship programs in some way, many students and recent graduates faced an uncertain start to their careers.
AIHA’s Student and Early Career Professionals Committee has also heard from AIHA members—and has seen in workplace environments—that the pandemic has affected internships in the occupational and environmental health and safety (OEHS) profession. Nonetheless, we want to help students and employers enjoy successful, productive remote internship programs in the era of COVID-19.
STRATEGIES FOR OEHS MENTORS Pitch the program to your employer as an investment in the organization’s post-pandemic future. But before your organization creates an application, it must address the legal, academic, and insurance concerns regarding both interns in the workplace and COVID-19. Consult your organization’s human resources and legal departments and research state and federal COVID-19 guidance and laws, including emergency health standards.
This is also the time to determine interns’ compensation in the form of academic credit, money, or other benefits. Working with human resources and academic institutions, make sure your compensation plan will fulfill program requirements. Many universities assign credit for remote or online internships differently than for those attended in person.
Design your 2021 intern program to include useful, memorable professional growth opportunities that can be accomplished by interns working remotely. Internship applicants often seek hands-on experiences, but they also appreciate team building, writing, and interpersonal skill development. Remote internship work could include writing safety programs, contributing to SOPs or guidance documents, or collaborating virtually on team projects. Interns can perform job safety analyses or ergonomic assessments from home using video recordings of job tasks. Data analysis and interpretation are other vital OEHS skills that do not require physical presence at a lab or facility. Reach out to AIHA student local sections, sister organizations, and academic institutions for help recruiting interns. AIHA member John Moore, CIH, has also created a helpful YouTube video presentation with tips for developing a virtual internship program designed specifically for OEHS. STRATEGIES FOR INTERNS If you are a student or early-career professional interested in an OEHS internship, your first task is to create a plan from a list of the skills you would like to build and employers that match them. Consider investing in “soft” skills such as public speaking, management, and writing as well as technical skills. Prepare for hands-on opportunities to remain limited and develop backup plans. In the meantime, take advantage of resources that are still available to you, such as webinars hosted by AIHA and other safety organizations, online conferences, and connecting online with established OEHS professionals. You may also be able to connect remotely with local professionals and organizations through your university or student local section. AIHA’s OEHS Science Careers website provides more resources. The next installment of this column in the August Synergist will cover the experiences of employers and interns over the coming spring and summer. If you are interested in sharing your experiences related to OEHS internships and COVID-19, please contact me via email.