February 9, 2023

5 Key Skills You Should Be Giving Your Interns

4 min read
By Khairunnisa Mohamedali PhD

44% of companies cite the absence of work-ready soft skills as their biggest challenge with today’s early talent cohorts.

When was the last time you reviewed the skills offering in your internship programme? An estimated 87 percent of companies worldwide have a skills gap, or are expected to develop one within a few years. While the skills you offer may have been relevant and useful to your organisation 5-10 years ago, the skills interns need to thrive are drastically different in today’s post-COVID hybrid workplace.

There are two ways to approach the skills you should be including in your program: the first is the fundamentals of what is required to be successful to thrive in today’s working world. The second set of skills are more future-facing. It’s important to not only consider the interns you’re building today, but the workforce you want to have in three-to-five years’ time. What foundational skillsets do they need to be successful as your future workforce?

Here are 5 fundamental and future-facing skills every early talent function should be developing in their interns:

1) Teamwork

Groups of three, four, or five perform better on complex problem solving than the best of an equivalent number of individuals, according to research by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

Teamwork is a crucial umbrella skill that includes many competencies such as empathy, emotional intelligence, honesty, and having difficult conversations.

While your interns have likely had plenty of collaborative projects during their studies, imparting Teamwork as a skill within the context of the workplace has never been more important than in our hybrid working world where we are often required to interface with our teams through a variety of channels.

Whether in a team of 2 or 200, your interns should be able to give feedback to each other, speak freely to voice concerns over courses of action, acknowledge failures, and celebrate successes. Teaching your interns teamwork will demonstrate that success often comes about as a result of using the collective strengths of others, especially at times of adversity.

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2) Resilience

In a global study by LinkedIn, resilience was cited as the #1 or #2 most important skill by L&D leaders in every country surveyed –  no surprise given today’s world of constant change and unpredictability. In psychological terms, resilience is the process of adapting to difficult experiences. Resilience in the workplace is much the same thing: it’s our ability to experience, process, and overcome challenges. Like most skills, it’s a learned ability that can be practiced and perfected.  

Your interns have likely had a difficult route to your organisation disrupted by the pandemic, virtual studies, and limited learning opportunities. It’s no wonder that 40% of young people believe the pandemic left them unprepared to take the next steps in their careers, and are anxious that they don’t have the basics to succeed at work.

Teaching your interns how to identify stressors and reframe experiences will help them deal effectively with challenges and change as they begin their working careers. A resilient intern knows how to protect their psychological wellbeing by minimising disruption caused by set-backs.

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3) Presenting

A study by Microsoft found that human attention spans are at a record lowaveraging at about 8 seconds – which is shorter than a goldfish. Knowing how to engage an audience while conveying information is a powerful skill, and one your interns might not have had much exposure to at this point in their careers.

It’s no secret that the best CEOs structure their presentations in a storytelling format: research has shown that recall is 7x higher when remembering a specific story over text alone. We call this style of presenting strategic storytelling, and knowing how to do it – both virtually and in-person – can be a crucial instrument in the toolbox of any intern looking to make an impact in their role.

Teaching your interns how to be better presenters and storytellers will help them communicate with influence, boosting their ability to work collaboratively and influence outcomes as they hit the ground running at your organisation.

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4) Time and Energy Management

Mental energy is a valuable currency, but it’s limited. For your Gen Z interns in particular, mental energy can be quickly spent on anxious thoughts – worrying about where they fit in the grand scheme of things, or poring over small mistakes.

Your interns can maximise the returns on their mental energy by practicing Energy Management: the ability to identify which tasks to focus on, which colleagues to prioritise, and which situations outside of their control they shouldn’t spend time worrying about.

Importantly, building a “Hope Mindset” in your interns will help them recognise not every situation needs a response from them. It will help them control what they can, and forget what they can’t  – maximising their energy levels and boosting their resilience at the same time.

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5) Learning to Unlearn

We’ve seen unprecedented levels of change in the skills we need as we’ve adapted to workplace shifts like working in hybrid, fostering diverse and inclusive workplaces, and navigating unpredictable hiring markets. As the workplace continues to evolve (as we’ve seen recently with the introduction of AI) the skills we need will continue to evolve as well.

If the past few years of workplace transformation have taught us anything, it’s that the ability to quickly acquire and develop new skills is crucial. As new entrants to the workplace, your interns will be immersed in plenty of situations where they’ll need the ability to identify issues, evaluate causes, and learn how to implement solutions.

Teaching your interns a systemic approach to learning and developing new skills is critical for setting them up for future success, not only as interns at your organisation, but as valuable members of your future workforce post-programme.

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Looking for more Internship Design Tips?

Our 2023 Internships Toolkit explores tried-and-tested internship components that boost conversion and enhance your internship experience, including work-ready skills, self-led learning modules, and wellbeing tools. Request your copy.

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