How India's top B-School students did a virtual internship via VR, VC at Coca-Cola during COVID lockdown 

With the markets being shut, production at factories being halted, HCCB customised its internship modules to suit the needs of a full-fledged digital experience 
Student who are interns at Coca Cola| Pic: HCCB
Student who are interns at Coca Cola| Pic: HCCB

While several organisations and companies in the country revoking their internship programmes due to logistical reasons amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages (HCCB), one of India's leading FMCG companies that manufactures some of India’s most loved beverages — Minute Maid, Maaza, SmartWater, Kinley — went digital to accommodate interns from the leading B-Schools of the country. Around 30 graduates from leading B-Schools in India including IIM Bangalore, IIM Lucknow, Management Development Institute Gurgaon and NMIMS School of Business Management, Mumbai are undergoing virtual summer internships at HCCB. 

We spoke to Indrajeet Sengupta, Chief Human Resources Officer, HCCB to know in detail how they went completely digital to accommodate the need of the hour, what the internship programme includes, whether virtual internships are a thing of the future and more. 

Here's what transpired:

How long is the internship for and what exactly are you delving into throughout the span of the internship?
The internship started in April and as mentioned, with certain relaxations being announced with Unlock 1.0, we have planned to extend it till June 30. Our virtual summer internship programme covers on-the-job training, working on a real business problem, end to end solutions through online classes, online mentoring, data analysis, and project reviews. The Senior Leadership Team was actively engaged through their regular interactions to support faster assimilation. The programme has been designed and executed to ensure a seamless transition for the interns from college to the corporate world, without visiting the workplace or meeting anyone in person.  

Your virtual summer internship programme covers on-the-job training and other things as well. Does this mean you are also teaching students how to go about the manufacturing process? What about the factory visits or the procedure of how the beverages are made? How are you covering that on the virtual platform?
First, Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages, despite the COVID-19 crisis, did not rescind any internships already offered. We conveyed to the interns that we were serious about internships and this was a necessary step to help them feel safe - physically and emotionally - even before they started their internships. We have created a truly holistic virtual internship programme which covers various facets of on-the-job training. Considering the safety and logistical challenges that we faced at the start of the internship, we decided to leverage technology to help address those concerns. Augmented reality video on our manufacturing process came handy. This allowed us to familiarise the students with the manufacturing processes and market dynamics through the virtual plant and market tours. This provided a wholesome view of the entire manufacturing and distribution cycle while also helping the interns gain insights into the quality standards and stringent measures that we have in place in our factories. Every intern worked with a project guide (an expert) and a mentor. Each such pair was tasked with ensuring support, coaching and feedback to the interns. Eventually, all the triads have now become close friends.
Moreover, with certain relaxations announced by the government with Unlock 1.0, we have aligned with the different college placement committees to extend the internship programme by 15 days i.e. till June 30. We are using this time by allowing students to visit the marketplace as well as the factories that are in and around their hometowns while ensuring their safety through strict protocols.

The online module of the internship also meant that the company had to make arrangements for providing access to the company’s data and database while also ensuring the security of the systems, data and devices. How did you ensure this?
In order to ensure a smooth onboarding process for the interns, we had to defer the internship programme by two weeks. We created temporary email ids for interns to ensure a seamless exchange of work-related communications. While we ensured that the interns have the access to the central database repository system to enable them to work on the platform directly, we had placed restrictions for them to download the data to help secure the loss or transfer of any kind of the data. Moreover, we have a robust security mechanism in place which ensures complete data security.

When everything is shifting to the virtual platform, how important is the security of one's data be it an individual or a company like yours?
As one of the leading FMCG players in the country, we place the utmost importance on data security. We work with a diverse set of customers across the board, making it imperative for us to ensure a robust and holistic security infrastructure. With digitisation and automation taking precedence due to COVID-19, it will become essential to have a comprehensive and multi-pronged data protection strategy in place. We have been regularly communicating with our employees and interns to create awareness about data security measures. We have provided them with various measures such as VPN access and two factors authentications for them to safely access the data.

What is the most important lesson, you feel, the interns need to learn or are learning during these times of distress?
These are trying times and we believe that the interns have had a unique experience this time. They are all very smart. Major learning for them is to see how business continuity is maintained in times of crisis. They got to experience first-hand how big organisations such as HCCB sail through difficult times. Other than understanding the nuances of the corporate world, the internship also taught them about the importance of adapting to adversity, being flexible, safety and work discipline at home. They also got to solve real business problems for the company.

How do you think the idea of internships will change after this? Already people are working from home or studying from home, do you think that is here to stay?
The situation that we are faced today with is truly unprecedented and it is difficult to predict how things will pan out once the situation subsides. However, what we have learnt is that through technological integrations, it's possible for virtual internships to sustain as a viable model. We believe the demand for physical and on-ground experience will pick up once the situation becomes normal. However, this experience has enabled us to be future-ready and be prepared for any adversity that might hamper any such programs going forward. We must, however, remember that technology is only an enabler. What is critical is to have the right intent and conviction to be able to fulfil our commitment. Only then we will be able to provide a desired learning experience to the interns even under trying circumstances.

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