Coronavirus: companies move internships online

UAE students to begin virtual internships with US aerospace business

Ahsan Ahmed – Director, Center for Innovation and Secutiy Solutions -Lockheed Martin International. Courtesy Lockheed Martin International
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Businesses that switched to remote working because of the coronavirus are taking their internships online.

Last week, 16 students in the UAE received laptops sent from US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin and logged in to begin their virtual internships.

The team will work remotely under the guidance of engineers and scientists on real-world projects.

In the United States, systems that support remote internships are already in place as a lot of engineers work remotely

"We are giving interns a feel of what the workplace will be [like] in the next few years because of Covid 19," said Ahsan Ahmed, director of Lockheed's Centre for Innovation and Security Solutions.

"We were committed to ensuring the UAE’s students did not lose this summer period,” Mr Ahmed said. “We had 700 applications and selected 16 interns to participate this summer.

"In the United States, systems that support remote internships are already in place because a lot of engineers work remotely."

Guidance will be by email and video call. Mentoring sessions will take place over Zoom.

Interns will be trained in artificial intelligence development,  drone design, defence simulation exercises, business administration skills and IT systems management.

The practical constraints brought about by the pandemic threaten an important part of internships – the social aspect. But the programme has planned for that, too.

"We recently added some things to our schedules so we will have dinners over Zoom,” said Hala Alzargani, lead project engineer at the Centre for Innovation and Security Solutions.

“We will buy everybody dinner and the team will get together to eat on a Zoom call.

“In the future, internships could look very different and we are preparing students for that future.”

Lina Alkhatib is one of the Lockheed centre's virtual interns working on software to help train pilots on different aircraft.

She has been working at the firm since last year and said she was glad the company kept the programme running.

"The whole experience added a lot to my skills," she said.

Experts said honing recent graduates’ skills was even more important given the current climate, as jobs become scarce and competition for them increased.

However, the pandemic also exacerbated an existing problem in relation to internships, with some companies taking advantage of young people eager for work experience.

According to, which helps graduates and students find internship roles, a typical intern salary is about Dh3,000 a month.

But the fear is that with companies cutting costs due to Covid-19, businesses may look to save money by viewing interns as free labour.

“Young people do require the experience," said Talib Hashim, the managing director of TBH Consultancy in Dubai. "However, there is a concern now with companies focusing on the bottom line and cutting costs, and also losing out on employees.”

He said some employers could regard unpaid interns as a "free meal", filling the roles of full-time employees.
Harry Tregoning, managing partner of Tregoning Property, a Dubai estate agent, said he was hiring an intern for the first time this year. It will be a paid position with a typical market salary.

“You need to pay enough so it covers their expenses and a little more,” Mr Tregoning said.

“I have a few numbers in my head, but it would be a normal admin-type salary, possibly around Dh3,000. It depends on the candidate."