27 February 2022 12:24:41 IST

How ‘Nesternships’ opened new doors for students during the pandemic

Shruti Patial (28) got lucky in securing an internship at Nestle India. A post on Instagram inviting students to apply for internships at the FMCG major, or Nesternships, as the company calls it, leapt out at her while browsing the web. She applied, cleared a series of tests, and joined the first batch of Nesterns in August 2020.

For a month, Patial worked on benchmarking competitor information and market research for Nestle. She coordinated with area sales managers, on-ground sales teams, and major retail outlets, to procure real-time data. At the end of her internship, she presented her findings, received an Amazon voucher worth ₹5,000, and concluded her time at Nestle — or so she thought.

Three months later, impressed with her performance, she was offered a full-time position in sales. Patial is now Senior Sales Executive of Zirakpur-Panchkula zone. An engineer from Jaypee University of Information Technology (JUIT), Solan, Himachal Pradesh, with an MBA from SIIB Pune, she says, “The internship moved my life onto a different path and opened up doors for me. I thought I would return to the IT sector or take up a bank job.”

Shruti Patial, Senior Sales Executive ( Zirakpur-Panchkula zone), Nestle India

Patial was one of 1,000 interns that Nestle took on board, virtually, in 2020. This was a special programme that the company initiated, looking at the plight of thousands of students whose education, as well as internships, was stymied by the pandemic.

This initiative was presented to Suresh Narayanan, Chairman & Managing Director, Nestle India, who immediately gave the go-ahead for this programme.

“The idea came when we saw youngsters who sought internships on LinkedIn, as they had lost theirs due to Covid-19. It disturbed me that a number of youngsters lost out, so we had a one-month paid internship. They could apply from anywhere in the country and we had students from all over,” he explains.

Valuable lessons

It was a massive exercise, and the success of it prompted the company to offer another 1,000 internships in 2021 and it expects to repeat it in 2022 as well. “The Nesterns had live projects, they had mentors within the organisation and thirdly, free classes in interviewing skills and CV writing where we had an expert talk to them. I am happy that 2,000 youngsters had this opportunity, and in this CV-driven society a Nestle mention helps. It opened the eyes of the company that talent is available everywhere,” explains Narayanan.

Students from the top B-schools obviously didn’t apply as for most, their internships were secure. Most of them who applied were from smaller towns.

 Suresh Narayanan, Chairman & Managing Director, Nestle India

Anurag Patnaik, Director- Human Resources, says Nestle started Nesternships when it realised many internship opportunities were postponed or cancelled because of the pandemic. “As an organisation, interacting with the youth of society and working with them is an integral part of how we do business. They are an important customer and consumer for us. Through our Nesternships, we wanted to offer internship opportunities to those facing such challenges. “

“We, like a lot of organisations in the FMCG space, have worked with interns across business functions and areas before. But, we really wanted to scale it up and provide it as a solution to students and young talented pros who were facing difficulties,” Patnaik explains.

The Nesternships were spread across all the functions and streams in the organization; mainly in sales and marketing, one of Nestle’s core areas, and technical. “These are the two areas where we have the largest number of interns,” he says. But, the Nesternships spanned across different functions such as communications, finance, HR, supply chain, legal, and so on. “Depending on the interest areas of the Nesterns and whatever they want to do, we give them an option of applying to more than one department,” adds Patnaik.

Having organised it successfully for two years, Nestle plans the same exercise this year as well. “For us, it is also a process of continuous improvement to ensure the students have the right experiences, and it improves their employability and skill sets in the market.”

Expanding scope

In 2020, in four months, Nestle doled out a 1,000 projects. The application pool was around one lakh applicants but given that a student was allowed to apply to more than one department, the unique applicants was around 55,000 to 60,000 student, of which a 1,000 were selected.

Every Nestern worked with an assigned mentor or a project guide with whom they work very closely. Mentorship is a very integral part of the experience they have. The company ensures that the responsibility is divided between managers internally, so that the right focus and intent is communicated.

“That way we ensure that the interns experiences are in line with what they want to do. Based on feedback from mentors and interns, we are offering a longer duration for the internships. Till last year, the internship was for a month. From 2022, we are looking at the same number of interns for double the period,” says Patnaik. 

The Nesternships are over and above the regular interns programme that Nestle has. While it added to total organisation costs, Patnaik avers that was never a consideration for the company. “We are also realising the value of working with such a large number of students. Youth is an integral part of our eco system. It’s beneficial for us to interact with this vast talent pool.” 

Take the case of 21-year-old Sharanya Dwivedi, who is a leadership development intern, Nestle Global. In August 2020, she joined Nestle India for an internship and based on her performance, she was recommended by her mentor for a year-long global internship in June 2021. 

Dwivedi has a Bachelor’s in psychology and sociology from Lady Shri Ram College (LSR), Delhi University, and was looking for an internship in organisational psychology in the HR field, when Nesternships came along. 

Sharanya Dwivedi, Leadership Development Intern, Nestle Global.

“The global internship helped me understand how workplace cultures vary across different parts of the world and how they impact HR policies. For instance, YouTube does not work in China. So, we had to work with the team in China to re-package our leadership content for a different platform. Another project about transitioning from work life to retirement had to be reimagined for each country we were interacting with,” she says. 

Describing her time at Nestle, she says the relationships are not transactional. “They really involve you in all aspects of decision making and care for your learning. They are flexible. You are not limited in your roles and responsibilities. They are willing to go beyond the brief to accommodate my interests and assign me to the projects I am interested in. Everyone at Nestle is extremely solution-oriented. Every mistake I make is a teachable moment.” 

Nestle’s Chairman Narayanan says private enterprise can also help with such efforts as it has done with the Nesternships. “Nestle people feel useful and felt they contributed to something, too. This idea became popular in the Nestle world and other Nestle affiliates also adapted this model,” he says.