Internship woes during a time of Covid-19

SINGAPORE – Internships are a rite of passage for many teens and young adults having their first proper taste of working life, but the coronavirus pandemic has led to the ending of on-site work experience and created other challenges.

Take, for example, Ms Chloe Tang, 18, whose responsibilities at Singapore Food Agency involved routine laboratory tests on food samples. But since April 7, when circuit breaker measures mandating that most workers work from home kicked in, she has had to work on projects from home.

Ms Tang, who started her internship in February and will be studying food science at the National University of Singapore, says: “I had a month left and wanted to learn to operate more of the laboratory equipment.”

Even if their jobs do not require special equipment found in a laboratory, other interns had their own set of challenges.

Ms Ashley Lui, an intern business analyst at KPMG, which provides audit, tax and advisory services, says: “It might sound nice to be able to work in your clothes for sleeping and in the comfort of your home. However, as an intern, it can get rather frustrating when I need help.”

“There’s a time lag because my colleagues are unable to reply as quickly as if it were in person. There are times when I think it would be easier if the person I had a question for was sitting right next to me,” says the 19-year-old, who plans to read economics at university.

Similarly, Mr Shuy Yao Kang, who interned at a youth development organisation, found its take-home digitised training tools “significantly less effective” than the face-to-face mentoring of the primary and secondary school students under his charge.

The 18-year-old training and development intern had ended his three-month stint just before the start of the circuit breaker measures, but was already working from home much earlier. He found it harder to stay productive when working alone in his home environment.

The challenges faced by interns during this time of the coronavirus pandemic cannot be helped, says one expert.

Given the current circumstances, Mr David Ang, director of corporate services at Human Capital Singapore, believes that companies will have a hard time prioritising internships as they grapple with more critical issues like job retention, business recovery and cost-saving.

That said, the 72-year-old says there might be opportunities for interns in some sectors. “For young people who have the right attitude and are willing to work while being aware of the risks, the current climate has a lot of potential to provide a valuable learning experience for them,” he says.

Apart from jobs in the healthcare and welfare sector, which could use extra hands to tend to the more vulnerable, Mr Ang also sees potential jobs in manufacturing.

“With manpower shortages in mask and sanitiser production during this period, interns might get the chance to work in manufacturing facilities. Those performing other roles like data collection and analysis can also adapt to a work-from-home model during the circuit breaker period,” he adds.

Some interns see the bright side of things. Mr Yang Yuhao, whose work can be done mostly online, has found the transition to home-based working “quite manageable”.

The 21-year-old has been interning in the economist service at the Ministry of Trade and Industry since early last month and was already working from home before April 7.

He says: “Although it might have limited the opportunities for team collaborations and targeted engagements, I am given the challenge of becoming flexible in the way I work and communicate.

“As I am interning in a ministry, I also get to see the way we handle such crises and craft policies to address the needs of the people.”

Such positivity is echoed by marketing intern Anthea Cheo, who says daily Zoom meetings enable her to efficiently communicate with her team and stay on task.

The 18-year-old, who works at Adam Khoo Learning Technologies Group, says: “It has made me more aware of what the reality of the working world is like. We have to expect the unexpected, respond quickly and remain resilient even in the face of such crises.”

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