At Booz Allen Hamilton, interns don’t work the typical 9-to-5 desk job. They’re working together on a summer-long competition to solve some of the federal contractor’s biggest problems in a program now called the Summer Games.
But that wasn’t always the case.
Alexé Weymouth created the new program back in 2014 as a way of creating a strong pipeline of talent for Booz Allen. Previously, Weymouth said there had been a downward trend in attracting and retaining millennial workers from their internship programs. Now, about 80 percent of students end up joining Booz Allen full-time.
“One of the things that became obvious back then [when we were creating the program] is that we do some incredible work, but we’re not great about talking about it,” Weymouth told DC Inno. “We would bring in these brilliant students and they wouldn’t get to play with the hard stuff. They would be doing more apprenticeship style, playing with a database, doing work where they didn’t get to see the big picture.”
Put simply, the Summer Games can be thought of as a months-long challenge or pitch competition. At the beginning of the summer, student across 23 of Booz Allen’s locations, including in Washington, D.C., were assigned teams and a problem, ranging from projects dealing with the opioid epidemic and improving reliability of unmanned aerial vehicles during the winter.
In the first summer, the coordinators assigned the students 10 teams, 10 problems and 10 weeks to find a solution. That year, the program was only hosted at Booz Allen’s headquarters.
“We did our first summer with sixty little guinea pigs, brave students, and we put them in teams and we said ‘Here you go,'” Weymouth said. “We were blown away by their enthusiasm and their energy, and their ability to really push the boundaries of what we even thought was possible.”
With the revamped program, Weymouth likes to joke that it’s harder to get a spot in the Summer Games than it is to get into Harvard. For 2017’s class, they received more than 7,000 applications for 450 spots across 23 markets. Weymouth said they’re just around a less than a 0.5 percent acceptance rate into the program.
“When you see someone who is going to fit in to Booz Allen, you just know,” Weymouth said. “The critical thing we’re looking for comes down to grit and gratitude. Sometimes that’s a little bit hard to see on paper, but there are variables that speak towards that.”
In the program, Booz Allen isn’t shy about saying they’re using it to help find their future workforce. In those 10 weeks, they’re looking at where the students’ strength is, where they’re finding their passions and what teams they would be suited for.
At the end of the program, each team pitches their idea in a “Shark Tank” style competition, and the top teams end up receiving mentoring and funding to carry out their ideas after their internships.
“They have this incredible experience where they see a company that really puts its money where its mouth is,” Weymouth said.
“We don’t just spout out this great group of core values. We are willing to invest substantially in supporting staff time and paying for the students to tackle a problem like opioid abuse. This generation loves that.”