Collapse in internships ‘worrying’ for talent pipeline


The number of graduate jobs available have fallen this year, but a dramatic reduction in the number of work experience placements and internships on offer could have lasting effects on the talent pipeline.

The Institute of Student Employers’ Student Recruitment Survey 2020 finds the number of graduate jobs on offer has fallen by 12% in 2020 – the largest drop in graduate recruitment since the 2008/9 recession.

Retail and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) organisations reported the largest decrease in graduate recruitment at 45%, but some sectors saw slight increases in the number of entry-level jobs available. Charity and public sector firms saw a 4% rise in graduate recruitment.

Competition for the jobs that were available has been high, with employers receiving 14% more applications for graduate roles and 9% for more internships and work experience placements.

Many employers had to slash the number of placements and internships on offer, even remotely, by 25% and 29% respectively. These were the largest falls in placement and internship opportunities seen by the ISE since it started collecting this data in 2010.

But despite the glut of graduates seeking employment this year, employers in some sectors continued to struggle to find the talent they needed for some roles because of a lack of necessary skills or heightened competition with other organisations. Forty-two per cent found it difficult to fill IT roles in programming and development, while 35% said recruiting engineers had proved problematic.

ISE chief executive Stephen Isherwood said: “We can see patterns from the last financial crash emerging, but the effect on the student labour market is not a simple replay of 10 years ago.

“Employers have had to make significant adjustments. As a result, graduate jobs do not appear to be collapsing and school and college leaver recruitment is holding up, but the decline in internships and placements is more worrying. Around half of placement students get rehired, so diminishing these roles damages the talent pipeline.”

Isherwood urged employers not to forget students and graduates, who have seen their career plans turned upside down by Covid-19.

“We must continue to offer opportunities so young people can develop and experience work, even if it is from students’ kitchen tables. And we look to the government to do all it can to ensure that the pandemic does not disrupt this key career transition from education to work,” he said.

Among the firms that have had to reduce their graduate intake was utility provider Severn Trent. Graduate numbers dropped by 30%, but apprentice recruitment increased by the same proportion as it sought to realign its entry-level programmes with its skills needs.

Jade Pearson, new talent programme manager at Severn Trent, said : “We’re very fortunate that it’s been business as usual for us since the pandemic. We’ve just entered a new Asset Management Plan cycle, which enables us to identify the core skills and capabilities we’re going to need to be successful over the next five years. We’ve invested in our graduate engineering programme over the last few years whilst also introducing new apprenticeships in a range of occupations.

“Our recruitment strategy this year reflected all of this with a slight reduction in graduate numbers and an increase in apprenticeships. Despite lockdown we’re really proud to continue with our placements as the work is mainly office based and we were able to get onsite when necessary, in a Covid-secure way.”

Accountancy firm Saffery Champness honoured all of the 40 graduate scheme offers it had made up until March, but had to reduce the overall intake for this year by 10-15%. All internships were put on hold and reoffered to successful candidates for 2021.

“We didn’t want to over hire or be in a position where we had to withdraw offers,” said recruitment manager Ian Williams. “While, like many other professional firms, we took the decision to reduce the number of graduate jobs this year this was only by a small amount, and we made sure that we could fulfil our obligations on offers that we had already made and maintained school leaver recruitment.”

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