Lessons learned: Interning at a fortune 500 company during Covid-19

By Ta'Shara Francis-Brown, Master of Studies in Law student

I had the opportunity to intern for DTE Energy and it turned out to be a profound and enriching experience.

 I and another DTE intern safely distribute laptops to incoming interns for curbside pick-up.

DTE Energy is a fortune 500 utility company that continuously strives to become a better community partner. Between their commitments to energy efficiency, the reduction of carbon emissions and the community at large, I would say that they are achieving their mission. Prior to interning at DTE, I had no way of gaging just how large their student program is. Aside from the intern/co-op student program and their summer student program, there are a variety of other work programs for students that are designed to provide a meaningful learning experience. These other programs include their Summer Talent Exposure Program (STEP), Summer Youth Internship Program (for high school students), Cristo Rey Program, and Project Search, which is a program for youth with cognitive disabilities. Those programs alone are a testament to DTE’s commitment to investing in their communities and their culture overall.

As an intern in the Department of Human Resources, I was exposed to so many sub-categories related to HR. I was able to learn from and with people in the following sub-departments: Enterprise workforce strategy, employee relations, labor relations, diversity and inclusion, benefits and compensation, organizational development, HR health and productivity, talent acquisition, etc. Although I was included in special projects for many sub-departments, my primary responsibilities as an intern were with the talent acquisition team. The main responsibility of this team is to recruit and acquire talent. Here, I was used in a support role with a ton of responsibilities, including recruiting for student programs, participating in student talent planning and compliance reconciliation, managing student performance, performing student outreach, and leading continuous improvement (CI) efforts. I attended trainings, seminars and job shadows for personal, scholastic and professional development.

Working and interning in a Covid-19 environment was unprecedented and put me in an interesting situation. From the perspective of a worker and intern, I felt that DTE Energy had a responsibility to keep me employed, but as a consumer of energy services, I felt that the company had a responsibility to keep my rates reasonable. Working in HR made me privy to things that other consumers were not, like extra expenses being paid out to sequester employees, pay hazard pay, etc. Overall, DTE did a great job. They did not have to lay people off because of Covid-19, and while other companies were cancelling their internship programs all together, DTE did not. They stood by their workforce AND the student programs. They were able to “figure it out” while continuing to stay good community partners. All non-essential workers were sent home to work. This is reflective of their commitment to a culture of safety.

While the beginning of my internship was a masterclass in continuous improvement (Sigma Six yellow-belt style), and talent planning, the end was a crash course in recruiting, student outreach and compliance regulation in a virtual environment. I have grown and learned so much. One of my main goals for that internship was to do a deep dive into what a HR department looks like at a large company. This, I believe, I achieved. I did, however, struggle to make as many connections as I intended initially. I am sure that some of the clumsiness of being one of the first virtual interns at DTE will subside in future terms.

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