Despite having to pivot quickly to create an all-new digital experience, ICMIF member Securian Financial (USA) forged ahead with a quality summer internship experience in a virtual environment.
Whilst many companies in the USA had to reconsider their internship programs, Securian Financial says it is fortunate to be in an essential industry and was therefore still able to offer 41 interns meaningful work experience this summer. These college students had accepted internship offers before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and a desire to keep its commitments to them drove Securian’s decision to make the programme happen but in a very different way to usual.
“Students put a tremendous amount of time and effort into applying for and selecting an internship programme,” says Kristi Fox, Securian Financial’s Chief Human Resources Officer. “We felt it was important to honour the commitment we made to help advance their education and prepare them for their future careers.”
The benefits are mutual says Securian. “Not only have our interns gained value in the past, but so have our employees, leaders and the organisation as a whole,” adds Jennifer Lastine, Second Vice President, Enterprise Function Technology at Securian. “Interns bring fresh perspectives to our teams through their skills and experiences, and in times like this we felt it was important to continue our commitments to developing talent.”
Collaborating with industry peers
This year’s cohort have also enjoyed the unique experience of interacting with interns and leaders from two of Securian Financial’s peer companies, Thrivent (also an ICMIF member organisation) and Allianz.
Speaking at the start of the programme, Katie Stedman, a Learning and Development Consultant at Securian who helped develop this year’s internship programme said: “One of the events we’re most excited about is in collaboration with Allianz and Thrivent. Interns from all three organisations will gather virtually for a panel discussion with the CEOs from each company — including, of course, our own Chris Hilger. We’re very excited for this event and know our interns will be, too.”
Securian Financial has offered a summer internship programme for the past 30+ years, and this year’s programme was undergoing a significant evolution even before COVID-19 forced the shift to a remote work environment.
“This year we’ve built out an Enterprise Internship Programme that creates a consistent core experience and lays a foundation for the functional internship experiences to build upon,” Katie explains.
The programme focuses on six guiding principles to achieve this:
- Meaningful connections
- Cultural understanding
- Leadership exposure
- Professional development
- Meaningful work
- Career potential
Interns have been contributing directly to the company’s goals, which by default adds meaning to their work. They have also been focusing on developing leadership competencies — such as demonstrating responsibility, remaining resilient and communicating effectively, among others — that matter for a successful career.
When it comes to actual projects, interns have contributed to a wide range of work. For example, Actuarial interns are assigned to one department and rotate through other actuarial teams to expand their experiences. Interns will give a presentation about a specific project to their team at the end of the summer.
“The intern programme has been a very successful and important part of our overall actuarial program,” said Dave Seidel, Vice President and Chief Actuary at Securian, “and I am confident that this year’s experience, although different, will be a very positive one for the interns and for Securian Financial.”
Interns in the Enterprise Technology (ET) division are working on key enterprise initiatives and learning about various areas of the company.
“We are trying to give them very similar experiences to what they would have had during an onsite internship,” Jennifer explains. “Given we have 28 interns in ET, I feel confident they will be able to help us solve many different types of technology situations.”
Best practices for leaders
And, according to Securian, interns are not the only ones learning throughout this programme — leaders are, too.
“Interns likely never worked in a professional environment before and very likely not virtually,” Katie says. “They need dedicated support and guidance to feel psychologically safe in this new, virtual professional space. We’re helping our leaders provide this support by rolling out a Virtual Internship Playbook full of best practices and tools for our leaders to leverage.”
Making it all happen
Securian says there was a lot to do to transition a successful, 30-year-old internship programme to a fully virtual experience. Multiple business areas and leadership teams had critical roles in coordinating the technology, onboarding, roles and responsibilities and many other aspects to make it happen.
“We’ve had to experiment, prioritise and debate,” Jennifer says. “As always, I am impressed by this organisation’s drive to keep commitments, invest in talent and empower our teams. This is driven by our strong leadership from Chris Hilger and Kristi Fox to advocate and support the efforts.”
Cross-functional teams contribute to common goals
The technology component of shifting the programme to a virtual one was a significant effort for Securian’s Information Security, Technology Provisioning and Tech Centre teams. “They prepared, shipped and led the remote setup of devices for these 41 interns, all while balancing the regular cadence of new employee onboarding,” Katie says. “It was an enormous effort and they have been incredible partners.”
Kristi Mayer, Technology Learning and Development Consultant at Securian Financial, concurs. “This was most definitely a collaborative effort among many teams,” she says. “HR gathered interns’ shipping addresses and answers to security questions, security coordinators worked with intern leaders on security information, Information Security applied all requested security, User Services configured, set up and shipped all devices, and so many other tasks.”
Kris Rexroth, Director of User Services, Enterprise Technology, adds, “The teams worked quickly to first understand the changes needed to fully set up security and technology. Everyone collaborated to make it as efficient as possible, stay on schedule and create the best experience for incoming interns.”
This group of interns will certainly make history as trailblazers in Securian Financial’s first virtual internship programme. But the skills they develop and experiences they have will be as rewarding as an onsite programme according to Dexter Davis, Talent Management Senior Director and Chief Diversity Officer for Securian.
“I hope the interns get a sense of why Securian Financial is a special place to work and leave with a clear understanding of our values,” says Dexter, “as well as a development of skills that can help them grow because of their exposure to a meaningful and impactful internship experience.”