Despite having to pivot quickly to create an all-new digital experience, Securian Financial is forging ahead with a quality summer internship experience in a virtual environment.
While many companies had to reconsider their own internship programs, Securian Financial is fortunate to be in an essential industry and 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 our commitments to them drove Securian’s decision to make the program happen.
“Students put a tremendous amount of time and effort into applying for and selecting an internship program,” says Kristi Fox, Securian Financial’s chief human resources officer. “We felt it was important to honor the commitment we made to help advance their education and prepare them for their future careers.”
The benefits are mutual. “Not only have our interns gained value in the past, but so have our employees, leaders and the organization 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 will have the unique experience of interacting with interns and leaders from two of Securian Financial’s peer companies, Thrivent Financial and Allianz.
“One of the events we’re most excited about is in collaboration with Allianz and Thrivent,” explains Katie Stedman, a Learning and Development consultant at Securian who helped develop this year’s internship program. “Interns from all three organizations 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 program for the past 30+ years, and this year’s program 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 Program that creates a consistent core experience and lays a foundation for the functional internship experiences to build upon,” Katie explains.
The program focuses on six guiding principles to achieve this:
- Meaningful connections
- Cultural understanding
- Leadership exposure
- Professional development
- Meaningful work
- Career potential
Interns contribute directly to the company’s goals, which by default adds meaning to their work. They’ll also focus 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 will contribute 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 give a presentation about a specific project to their team at the end of the summer.
“The intern program has been a very successful and important part of our overall actuarial program,” says 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 will work on key enterprise initiatives and learn about various areas of the company.
“We are trying to give them very similar experiences to what they would have gotten 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 interns aren’t the only ones learning throughout this program — 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
So what does it take to transition a successful, 30-year-old internship program to a fully virtual experience? A lot. 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, prioritize and debate,” Jennifer says. “As always, I am impressed by this organization’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 was a significant effort for Securian’s Information Security, Technology Provisioning and Tech Center teams. “They are preparing, shipping and leading the remote setup of devices for these 41 interns, all while balancing the regular cadence of new employee onboarding,” Katie says. “It’s 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 program. But the skills they develop and experiences they have will be as rewarding as an onsite program.
“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 Davis, Talent Management senior director and chief diversity officer for Securian, “as well as a development of skills that can help them grow because of their exposure to a meaningful and impactful internship experience.”