Virtual internship helps students build manufacturing and career skills

Some of the high school students who were part of Boeing’s 2020 Core Plus Aerospace internship.


How do you create an engaging, virtual summer internship that strengthens students’ manufacturing and professional skills? Because of the pandemic, my team faced that very challenge this year. 

Each year, Boeing welcomes top students from Core Plus Aerospace partner schools to join us for full-time, paid internships in July. As in past years, we would give our interns opportunities to participate in hands-on learning experiences inside our plants, shadow early-career professionals, and gain insight from trainers and executives about career readiness, workplace skills, and teamwork.

We received applications from students across the state and were excited to welcome them in person at our Renton and Everett locations. Then came the pandemic. We knew we needed to offer an enriching experience where students could build relationships with peers and mentors, and further develop their manufacturing skills. To do that, we had to pivot.

Our Boeing trainers and workforce development team went to work. We created three weeks of training that could be delivered virtually and welcomed a diverse group of 25 students from 18 schools to our virtual internship last month.

Our Core Plus Aerospace interns learned about electrical assembly and seal application, using peanut butter and Kit Kat bars as well as electrical wire and basic hand tools to complete at-home projects. They followed step-by-step processes and could ask the trainers questions along the way.

The students entered the internship with different skill levels. Some had already completed part of Core Plus Aerospace coursework (which includes 1,080 hours of total instruction), while others were newer to the program. We made sure every student truly understood the projects and how these skills are relevant to entry-level jobs, apprenticeships, and aligned community and technical college programs.

Another project involved interns working in teams to develop, package, and pitch ideas for new innovations that would improve safety or quality control in their high school classrooms. The students then presented their ideas to a panel of their mentors and industry professionals during the first ever Safety and Quality Innovation Challenge. The intern-pitched creative solutions included fabrication of a tray to capture debris in the workspace, and a way to protect students who are allergic to latex gloves. In developing their ideas, our interns examined the potential value of their proposed projects to others as well as return on investment and cost-effectiveness. Many students were learning these business concepts for the first time.

Interns also developed employability skills through activities like resume writing and mock interviews. They learned to market themselves, summarize their abilities, and be ambassadors of Core Plus Aerospace through development of the Student Snapshot – a high-level summary of students’ manufacturing-specific skills, interests, and goals. The Student Snapshot can serve as a tangible starting point for conversations with their parents, teachers, counselors, or potential employers about career and life goals and how to make their dreams a reality.

Feedback from the internship has been overwhelmingly positive. Students felt the internship was engaging, and they expressed appreciation for their Boeing mentors. Many said that we pushed the envelope and helped open their minds to new ways of thinking.

This virtual Core Plus Aerospace internship program was a testament to the resilience of today’s students and illustrates the importance of being able to adapt in the ever-shifting landscape, particularly amidst the pandemic. It also reminded us of the richness and diversity of skills development coming out of our Core Plus Aerospace partners schools. The excitement shown by our interns about the future of manufacturing is both inspiring and contagious. We look forward to seeing where their skills will take them next.

Essentia Rivera is a workforce development staff analyst at Boeing.