Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, not only have classes and courses shifted online, but also practicums and internships.
Remote practicums are becoming a popular choice for Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) students, especially those who are already participating in a program that is online or can transfer online easily.
“Most of the students in our classes decided to go with a remote option this year,” said SAIT business graduate Austin Mitchell.
“The reason for this definitely was caused by the pandemic as it gave us the greatest solution to adapt in our current circumstances. Flexibility is the biggest aspect, because now you’re able to go out and find people in the field and work them around their schedule and your schedule, instead of in a rigid class setting.”
Mitchell himself opted to complete a remote capstone project this year instead of taking on an in-person placement.
“It’s definitely reduced stress for students because you are able to be flexible with your own schedule,” he said.
According to the results of a StatCan crowdsourcing initiative back in 2020, 35 per cent of all participants reported that the pandemic resulted in the cancellation or postponement of their work-integrated learning.
“Since the start of the pandemic we’ve had some issues with our long-time partners indicating that we would have to delay the start of the practicum time. We had some outright cancellations for a while,” said Sonja Chamberlin, dean of the School of Health and Public Safety at SAIT.
“They were concerned for students’ safety. It could be because of operational issues, they’re either short-staffed, or that the volume of work that they have prevents them from providing time and attention to our students, so it has been difficult in some areas.”
Chamberlin says that they did try remote practicums with some health and public safety programs at SAIT and found it fairly successful.
“It was still very much a work-integrated learning type experience, (students) actually felt it was a very good learning experience. I think overall it was quite a success,” she said.
In response to the pandemic, many practicum partners have started offering more remote practicums than ever in order to bring the experience to students in a way that is safe and free from most pandemic-related complications, such as practicum cancellations or delays.
“This year and last year, I did find that there was more accommodation in the (practicum) companies,” said Christine Freund, a graphic communications and print technology instructor at SAIT.
“A lot of the students, instead of going out to an actual print company, got more creative-type practicums like at ad agencies, so therefore they were able to do their practicum remotely. Out of the 35 students that got practicums, I’d say, almost half of them ended up doing it remotely,” she said.
This number is a sharp increase from the 2019 stats for the program, where Freund says only one or two students had completed a practicum remotely.
“I feel that most companies have adjusted and are accommodating more flexibility in the workplace in regards to working remotely,” said Freund.
“Perhaps a benefit of remote practicums is giving students experience in the online corporate world, as there’s a likelihood that they may get their first job working remotely because of the pandemic.”
Some say that these remote options will be the new way forward for SAIT.
“There definitely is greater potential for remote practicums, because you could use it now from an international standpoint or for out-of-province (students) or for remote locations, which really comes in handy. I do think there are benefits,” said Mitchell.
“The effectiveness of this comes down to the student, you get in what you put out, and making the most of it definitely allows for you to be successful in the current circumstance.”
However, some may argue that for some programs, remote options are simply not possible and that ultimately nothing beats face-to-face.
“When you’re actually in the establishment with everyone, it gives the student an opportunity to converse with multiple people and ask questions about the culture of the company. A practicum is about discovering what they like or don’t like about their future career path, and also about realizing there are other possible opportunities in that field that they wouldn’t see unless they were actually there,” said Freund.
All opinions aside, in a country where nearly one-quarter of businesses expect that 10 per cent or more of their workforce will continue to work remotely post-pandemic, it’s possible that remote practicums, internships and work may be here to stay.