Safeguarding Talent During Coronavirus: Will Internships Go Digital? |

Safeguarding Talent During Coronavirus: Will Internships Go Digital?

By Linda Mohamed

Updated Updated

Some 24m people in the US and UK have filed for unemployment in the past five weeks as businesses struggle to contain the threats associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

To counteract the economic crisis that will likely follow the outbreak, many companies worldwide have halted their paid internship programs. Research by the recruitment platform Glassdoor found that between March 9 and April 13 internship opportunities across sectors declined by 52 percent.

This is particularly discouraging for b-school students across the globe who were hoping to land internships throughout 2020, as they represent a rite of passage in their HE experience, and a crucial step in their future career advancement.

Martin Boehm, dean of IE Business School, told BNN Bloomberg: “Investment banks are probably the best example. I’m not aware of banks that would hire without a previous internship or extensive investment banking experience. […] consulting firms are a close second.”

Nevertheless, not all companies have taken the drastic decision to cut internships entirely.

An ongoing survey by the National Association of College and Employers (NACE) found that, as of May 1 2020, almost 80 percent of US employers are making changes to their internship programs to keep attracting and retaining new talent during the outbreak.

These measures include shortening the programs’ length, reducing the number of available spots and digitalizing all intern-oriented events, such as end-of-program presentations.

But the most common solution so far has been shifting to online: almost half (46.2 percent) of surveyed employers have already done so.

Career centers are facilitating this change by digitalizing recruitment: NACE reports that 42 percent are planning on conducting interviews through a combination of in-person and virtual spaces for the foreseeable future.

Last month, tech and business giants such as Google, Amazon, Apple, Twitter, IBM, Microsoft, Sap, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase were among the first companies to ride the online wave and implement telework internships for tens of thousands of candidates.

The same goes for insurance firms such as Liberty Mutual: in the next few months, all 600 of its interns – undergraduate, graduates, MBAs, PHDs and law students – will work from home in the firm’s finance, IT, claims, legal and sales departments.

Maura Quinn, Liberty Mutual’s manager of campus recruiting, told USA Today: “Over the past few years, Liberty Mutual’s program already offered virtual internships to a handful of interns who worked from some of our smaller offices. We took that model and scaled it up this year for all of our interns.”

Smaller companies have followed suit, announcing virtual internship platforms where interns can work on a wide range of tasks, interact with employers through chatbots, take psychometric tests and gain access to e-learning resources to expand their skillset.

While implementing such a drastic change to operations in a short amount of time isn’t always easy, it seems that employers have learned from the 2008 financial crash, when companies got rid of most work experience opportunities and struggled to find new talent in the following years.

NACE reports that 61.3 percent of surveyed businesses plan to maintain the same level of recruitment for the Class of 2021 as for the Class of 2020. In fact, 5.5 percent even plan to increase recruiting in the upcoming months as countries all over the world begin to lift some – if not all – restrictions on their own workforce.

Now more than ever, it’s important that companies remember that safeguarding internship programs doesn’t only benefit students. It’s very likely that the employers who showed commitment to recruiting talent and successfully adapted to the pandemic will be remembered fondly by future graduates and be their top choices once they enter the job market.

As Pietro Micheli, Course Director of the Distance Learning MBA and Professor of Business Performance and Innovation at Warwick Business School, said: “The flexibility of online helps people continue their education around their increasingly busy lives. Now people are realising it is very possible to work from home […] with the same rich learning materials and networking experience, and it may well open the online market up even more.”

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