The Remote Externship Is Here to Save the Day for Students Trying to Build Work Experience

Part 10 of The Case for Inventing a New Form of Work Experience: the Externship
Matt Wilkerson | Co-Founder & CEO of Extern
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In my last article, I examined learning-integrated work programs and why they're a promising path forward for higher education to support job outcomes for students. Here, I discuss Remote Externships, a new form of work experience we invented at Extern to address common challenges that have hindered learning-integrated work experiences from becoming mainstream.

Historically, Externships have referred to short-term work experiences, often part of an educational program, where students are given the opportunity to gain practical experience in their field of study. Unlike internships, externships are typically shorter, less formal, and traditionally more observational in nature, allowing students to shadow professionals and gain insights into real-world work environments without extensive hands-on responsibilities.

If you ask the average person what an Externship is, you’re likely to get a confused look.  It sounds like an internship, right? 

You would be most familiar with the term Externship if you worked in fields like law, medicine, or nursing where externships are a crucial part of the hands-on educational experience. 

How do Externships Work at Extern?

At Extern, we decided to reimagine and redefine this little-known term.  We've created the remote Externship to be a structured professional experience led by experts.  During the Externship, learners get real work experience by completing an industry project which results in earning a credential.  The experts could include people from industry and education.  The credentials could include certifications from the company or academic credits from a higher education institution (or both). 

Think of this reimagined Externship as a live online classroom experience – a setting with which students are quite familiar. 

However, replace the professor's lecture with time with the company’s employees or managers.  And replace the academic work with a real project that those employees and managers care about.  There is still curriculum and training – focused on equipping externs with the knowledge and strategies they need to complete the Externship project.  There are program managers, partly an extension of the company’s staff, partly educational mentors, who guide students through bottlenecks and provide feedback.  There are teaching assistants, externs from prior cohorts who performed well and get promoted to help answer the nitty gritty questions from current externs, plus provide feedback on their initial work submissions.  

How the Remote Externship Benefits Students

For students with little or no prior work experience, the benefits are many:

  1. A setting they are used to (live online class).
  2. Low pressure environment to fail and mess up (no risk of “sounding dumb” to the company and screwing up your image for future employment).
  3. A chance to iterate and get feedback before submitting work to the company.
  4. If you decide the experience isn’t what you expected, or a life emergency comes up, you aren’t penalized and you come away with a better understanding of what that field may entail.
  5. Flexibility to do the work from anywhere in the world, any time during the year when it suits your schedule since the experience is remote and most of the work is asynchronous.
  6. Interaction with peers around the country (and sometimes world).  
  7. The chance to “taste test” multiple professions in a shorter period of time as opposed to committing an entire summer to an internship or an entire semester to a co-op.
  8. Learning practical skills for the professional world such as research, analysis, data, markets, customer development, product prototyping, content marketing, and more.
  9. Learning skills rarely taught in school such as how to deal with ambiguity and how to synthesize complex, dense information into brief insights and communicate those insights to managers and leaders in a professional environment (as opposed to coming up with stuff just to fill up a 20 page essay because your professor said that was the page limit).

Why are our Externships Remote?

Everyone knows that an in-person work experience is better than remote.  Well… maybe.  Depends on what you are solving for.  Remember that the original problem is there not being enough in- person experiences to develop inexperienced talent fast enough, and give them the knowledge to choose career paths that result in more foresight, satisfaction, and better retention at the companies they join.  For those students who land amazing internships with Google or a highly engaged alumni mentor, that’s terrific. But if we are going to create more opportunities, more on ramps, more “taste tests” if you will, then we have to leverage technology, remote learning, and remote work.  

In addition, it turns out that students actually prefer having this option in their arsenal.  It means they have more flexibility to try out careers without potentially having to move to a city, pay expensive rent, and commit to a valuable full time experience.  It also means, under the reimagined Externship model we are describing, that they can get some level of support when the company’s staff are too busy.  And it means that far more externs can simultaneously participate in Externship projects (50 at a time, even up to a few hundred at a time in some instances). 

We start to see true access and opportunity when students can attain meaningful work experience earlier in their college education. The Remote Externship is the solution students, higher education and companies have been seeking for years.

In my next article, I explain why companies don't offer more internship opportunities and how Remote Externships are optimized for a business leader's time, so companies can finally get on board with upskilling the next generation of talent, without overstretching their resources.

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