Salesforce is re-creating the tech intern pipeline

Salesforce announced it will launch a pre-intership program called Futureforce Launchpad to recruit more diverse tech workers earlier in their careers.

A group of Salesforce interns.

The program kicks off with its first cohort of 25 pre-interns in June.

Photo: Salesforce

Salesforce announced in a blog post today that it will launch its first ever “pre-internship” program called Futureforce Tech Launchpad. The program is designed to recruit rising college juniors from underrepresented backgrounds in partnership with CodePath, a non-profit focused on increasing diversity in the tech industry.

The program, which kicks off with its first cohort of 25 pre-interns in June, comes at a time when many tech companies are seeking to find new solutions to diversify the talent pipeline. While some companies have put additional resources into upskilling and apprenticeship programs, Salesforce’s Futureforce Launchpad program takes more of a preemptive approach — upskilling employees for technical roles two years before they even receive their bachelor degrees.

The pre-internship program functions much like a boot camp or apprenticeship, providing hands-on technical training and capstone projects, as well as mentorship from Salesforce employees. And unlike many tech internships over the past two years which have been remote due to the pandemic, the 10-week pre-internship will take place in person at the company’s San Francisco Salesforce Tower.

In partnership with CodePath, Salesforce will be able to connect with its over 70 university partners, which include a number of HBCUs and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs). CodePath will do the work of helping to identify computer science and engineering students to participate in the Futureforce Tech Launchpad.

HBCUs, HSIs and community colleges have all proven to be major sources for diverse tech talent, and tech companies have taken note. Recent data from the Kapor Center found that 10% of all Black computer science majors with conferred degrees in 2020 graduated from an HBCU, and 35% came from community colleges.

Nathalie Scardino, Salesforce’s global head of Recruiting, spoke with Protocol about why the organization has chosen to launch the program now, and how the nature of tech internships has changed over the past several years.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Why launch a pre-internship program now and where did the idea come from?

The last two years in the recruiting space we've been faced with a completely new reality. You think about the acceleration of digital transformation and really integrating all of the digital technology into every area of our business, and so how we deliver value to our customers has fundamentally shifted. And as a result, we have this need for digital skills which are in short demand. Our candidates and our job seekers are reevaluating what's important to them and they also have choices in this very hot market. And so as a recruiting team, we've completely had to shift our mindset and where we source talent from … [and] a big part of what we're talking about today is creating those new pathways and equal access, which is at the heart of this work as well.

We're investing in talent solutions and programs like our Futureforce University recruiting program. And over the next couple of years we're really focused on cultivating the next generation of leaders at Salesforce, which also happens to be some of our most diverse and global employees of the company coming from the Futureforce program today. Currently, 80% of eligible interns in our program are actually converted to full time. We also increased our direct hiring of new grads into full-time opportunities by over 60% year over year, again, really speaking to the demand of increasing those digital skills.

Was Salesforce accepting rising juniors prior to this year or is this their first opportunity to get in this early?

This is their first opportunity to get in this early. We've talked about it for a while, but it's never fully been programatized. And our focus has just been on different parts of the journey and the experience. But yes, this is why it's so important to us because it's so new for our engineering students.

A pre-internship is a concept that I think people are really going to grab on to as an idea. How does a pre-internship differ from a traditional internship? Walk me through the major differences between the two programs that you have.

I think for us it’s meeting people where they are at any given time in their early stage career, and that means that there are multiple tracks. The way that the industry has worked so far is leading graduates into internships. But for us, it's about the pipeline, it's about creating access early on. It is curriculum building for newer students to understand Salesforce and our value proposition as well. For us, the key thing here is that we really do want our pre-interns to become interns and ultimately full-time employees at Salesforce. So it's almost like an accelerator into an internship with that hands-on experience.

I think at the macro level, what is a little bit different is that initially they will be more [like] generalists. You will work on specific projects as a team, and then they will go into some more specific teams to get into more hands-on experience related to certain products or technology or software. But it's a little bit more general than the full intern experience that we have today.

You have been at Salesforce for 10 years and you've probably seen internship programs change and shift over that time as well. From your perspective, what's something you'd like to see more of as it relates to these tech- and skill-focused internships, and what's something that you'd like to see less of?

From my perspective in my role I think there has been a strong pivot to an apprentice hands-on experience that is very relevant to doing the job. And that is a shift. That is different. Also, I feel like the amount of innovation that comes from students that make its way into some of our core product design and engineering capabilities is incredible, and I don’t know that that’s always been open to interns. So not only is there an expectation that the student is coming in and will learn, it shifts now that the tech company is equally going to learn from the students and our Gen Z community. So I think the learning dynamics have changed a little bit and it feels more fair and equitable in today's approach. I think that is a big shift in internships for sure.

What are you hearing or seeing that Gen Z interns want out of an internship that differs from prior generations?

Well, I think it goes back to flexibility. They want to work on things that our customers care about. Innovation is such a big part of the Gen Z workforce. They want to work on things that are mission led that will make an impact in the world, and that is a criteria and the way that we're being assessed. They ask us about our values around equality, around sustainability, the future use of AI as it relates to product roadmap. They're so much more clued up than I ever was. And, again, they want to really work with a company that has relevant products for the world that we're operating in not just today, but [in] the future.

It sounds like prospective interns in general are moving with more purpose and intention. Is that right?

Absolutely. They provide just a different perspective and it couldn't be more relevant now to be an intern in tech because really they are the people that are defining what a great future leader looks like … I don't think there's ever been a better time to be an intern in the tech space because you have a more prominent voice than ever before.

The pre-internship seems like a way to avoid having to upskill more people later. Is that part of your thinking here — train now so you don't have to train later? Can you share how you're thinking about how this relates to upskilling?

I think that's absolutely right. Again, going back to the beginning of the shortage for digital skills with the acceleration of technology. We're providing the students with a curriculum so that they're going to leave after 10 weeks, but be better prepared to come back to the Futureforce internship the next summer. We're trying to accelerate their path at the same time.

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