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Adapting Northrop Grumman’s Intern Program to the Pandemic
As universities across the world responded to COVID-19, college students packed their bags, moved back into their childhood bedrooms and continued their semesters online.
In the midst of the confusion, many received the devastating news that their summer internships were cancelled; in fact, according to an April 2020 poll by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 22 percent of the 439 employers surveyed were revoking offers to interns, with 19 percent still undecided on the future of their summer internship programs.
However, for Northrop Grumman’s summer interns, it was never a question.
“We don’t take it lightly that our interns chose Northrop Grumman,” said Mary Basil, who leads strategic execution of early career and intern hiring across the Northrop Grumman enterprise. “Bringing on our 2020 interns was not even a debate — we knew we would. It was the how.”
In a typical year, Northrop Grumman’s interns work on-site on individual or collaborative projects related to their career interests. Beyond testing out a future career path, the internship program is an opportunity for interns to get to know Northrop Grumman’s culture, meet leadership and build a network. For the company, it’s a critical way to maintain and develop a talent pipeline amidst the fierce competition for technical talent.
“The way we’ve been approaching this year’s internship program is two-fold: making sure that the safety of our employees, including the interns, is top priority while also balancing a meaningful experience,” said Alex Miller, a principal organizational effectiveness representative for Northrop Grumman. “They’re only here with us for 10 weeks, so we want it to count.”
The company’s human resources and recruiting teams collaborated on how to connect with interns in the beginning, to share that the program was continuing and confirm the interns were still able to participate. After individual arrangements were made during one-on-one calls with each intern, the first groups of summer interns began onboarding virtually in May.
Now, Northrop Grumman interns across the country are discovering how they can Define Possible, whether they are working on-site or remotely.
“It’s exciting to know I’m working on assemblies that will one day be orbiting Earth and to have the opportunity to learn from some very talented people,” said intern Rus Pangilinan.
Over the coming weeks, interns will still have the opportunity to participate in development and enrichment programming — and these sessions will be conducted entirely virtually, with the help of web conferencing tools, according to Phyllis Villani, director of talent mobility. While remote networking can be difficult, teams have risen to the challenge with everything from virtual lunches to articles spotlighting leaders across the enterprise.
In some cases, going virtual has even offered benefits.
“This pandemic has allowed us to provide a better experience to all interns nationwide, regardless of where they sit,” said Jenny Vidas, recruiting and talent acquisition partner. In previous years, sites with just one or two interns may not have typically experienced the same variety of programming as interns at larger sites; virtual programming will now ensure that all interns have the same level of access.
Despite the distance, teams have also found creative ways to help interns make peer-to-peer connections, such as through virtual social activities, including an escape room, a game night and a trivia tournament. Breanna Digregorio, associate recruiting and talent acquisition partner, uses her weekly intern newsletter to feature intern photos and short introductions to build community.
“Typically, interns pass each other in the hall, gather for orientation and make friends over lunch,” said Breanna. “In today’s climate, it takes planning to provide opportunities for interns to share their stories and [it takes] intentionality, on the interns’ parts, to capitalize on these experiences. For everyone, it’s important to take initiative to collaborate despite being physically distanced.”
And this summer’s intern class certainly does not lack initiative.
“Having the opportunity to develop my technical skills and grow as a professional, even as we face times of adversity, is a challenge that I am thrilled to take on,” said intern Caralyn Harben. “I am delighted to support my team, even if I am doing so from my bedroom.”
While this summer’s internship program may look different than in past years, it remains a key aspect of Northrop Grumman’s recruitment and hiring strategy.
“We’re not pivoting on our business strategy. This talent is vital to the future of Northrop Grumman. This approach was a smart decision for the business and the right decision for keeping the commitments that we made to our interns,” said Mary.