Internships can give graduates an edge on their resumes and provide valuable real-world experience to help them succeed in their first jobs. However, in some countries where Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University students are currently located due to the pandemic, work-study placements are difficult to find.

When a student told Professor Ewout van der Schaft of XJTLU’s International Business School Suzhou this was a significant problem, he started thinking about how IBSS could help solve it.

Professor Van der Schaft, Associate Dean International at IBSS, broached with other academics the idea of the School setting up online in-company summer consulting projects for international students.

“The faculty were enthusiastic,” he says. “We have eight faculty members supervising eight projects, primarily initiated through their business contacts.”

While IBSS offers customer-site consulting opportunities for masters students, this is the inaugural online offering and the first open to undergraduates – the largest group of IBSS students studying from abroad.

“Our international students are a valuable part of our XJTLU community, and these online internships allow them to connect and get involved with University life while still overseas,” says Dr Rhonwyn Vaudrey, the academic supervisor for the initiative’s pilot project, which began in May.

Stepping into a consultant’s shoes

Working in small teams, students will consult with businesses on topics like social media strategy, corporate social responsibility, customer and market research, talent development, organisational psychology, and innovation development and entrepreneurship. Approximately 50 students were selected to complete consultancies across eight companies. Each project has an IBSS supervisor to coach its team throughout the consulting process, which lasts about a month.

“It’s really like a puzzle. The students get a specific problem for which the company wants them to come up with solutions,” says Professor Van der Schaft.

“Each student group meets online with the company representative, who explains what the company wants them to do – what the company is struggling with. Then the students discuss the situation online and divide up the responsibilities.”

Approximately halfway through the project, the students again meet with the company representative to provide a status report and ask questions to make sure they are going in the right direction.

“With that knowledge, they go back to work on the solution, and after a total of about a month, provide the company with a presentation of their finding and recommendations for the company,” says Professor Van der Schaft.

Interaction with clients, academic staff

Catherine Devina Tenedy, an XJTLU masters student in Business Analytics from Indonesia participating in the pilot project for design company Kate Wood, says she has picked up valuable knowledge beyond the fundamentals of consulting.

“I have learnt that our client is always the priority,” she says. “We need to know what our clients want, and not the other way around. This has made clear the importance of building a good relationship with them.”

“Furthermore, I have gained a lot of assistance from Rhonwyn, our supervisor, which I am very grateful for.”

Pim Gietelink, founder and Managing Director of Kate Wood, says he is looking forward to the students’ recommendations for how his company can expand their online presence in Indonesia.

“Young students can come up with unconventional ideas related to social media and e-commerce related strategies. This type of innovation is key,” he says.

Besides out-of-the-box thinking, companies also appreciate the opportunity to spot talent, Professor Van der Schaft says.

Building future-oriented skills

Dr Vaudrey says she thinks online internships like this make sense for students in today’s world:

“Whether we like it or not, the Covid-19 pandemic will have changed the way we work for the long term, moving towards more online work and actually opening up opportunities to expand our network and engage in distant projects.

“This initiative allows our students to put new skills needed for doing business online into practice with a real problem of a real company.

“In the pilot, I’ve observed that the students not only have learned consultation skills but how to apply them effectively in the current situation with its restrictions and limitations. The group has really done an excellent job at approaching the project and applying creative thinking to deal with those issues.”

Full circle

Besides these virtual internships, the IBSS Career Services team has facilitated in-person internship opportunities at Midea’s office in Jakarta, Indonesia, since a cluster of international IBSS students is located in that country.

“The student who triggered the idea of the online and overseas internships is now at one of the Midea internships,” Professor Van der Schaft says. “Until I spoke with her recently, she didn’t realise that internship was the result of our conversation. It came full circle.”

By Tamara Kaup

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