Coronavirus impact: Bay Area companies look to virtual college internships amid pandemic

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- College students count on summer internships to get real world work experience, but for many, it could be a lost summer as companies consider whether to create "virtual" programs.

By some estimates, the number of internships could fall in half as a result of COVID-19. The reasons vary - from airlines suffering huge revenue losses, to others unsure how to incorporate interns virtually.

Competition is fierce to get a summer internship. Just ask Jake Whinnery from San Ramon, a sophomore at Cal.

"I probably applied between August and November to 40 to 50 places, and that wasn't an experience unique to me," he said. "That's almost all the engineers at Cal most likely."

He was one of 59,000 who applied at consumer goods company Procter & Gamble. Only 570 were hired. But for the first time ever, internships will be virtual.

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"There's no playbook in taking on this effort," said Danny Combs, employment, branding and initiative leader for North America at Procter & Gamble. "We just had to adapt and kind of test different things out to feel confident that we could move forward at 110% to be able to deliver it."

Procter & Gamble isn't alone. A survey by Mill Valley's Glassdoor indicates that over half of all internship openings on Glassdoor have been closed since the coronavirus crisis began in the U.S.

The largest declines in hiring interns are in travel and tourism, information technology, architecture and civil engineering and telecommunications.

"Since I'm a mechanical engineer," said Jake, "a lot of the work that I do can be done virtually thankfully, so that'll be like computer aided design, simulations, stuff like that."

He and his fellow interns will be getting laptops from P&G. As for creating the virtual program, that was entrusted with younger employees with two to 10 years experience. After work social hours will also go virtual. A company founded almost 183 years ago can be nimble.

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"Trusting your newer work force with those ideas and leaning on them at this time and moving to a more digital world is huge for us," said Combs.

We reached out to several tech firms in Silicon Valley about the status of their internship programs. By deadline, the only response was from Google, which said it is planning to runs its internships virtually.

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