Although some organisations may be putting graduate recruitment and internships on hold to reduce cost, there’s no reason why they should be postponed for practical reasons. Nicola Sullivan looks at how technology can allow new recruits to work, learn and meet colleagues entirely online.
For many students, the next few weeks are when they effectively begin their careers. Eight to twelve week-long internships are often the gateway to a job offer the following year, after their graduation.
Covid-19 has of course changed all that. Internships have been delayed and cancelled altogether as companies scramble to work out how to react to global lockdowns, and students fear that graduate jobs will be much harder to come by.
With no clear indication of when the lockdown might end in the UK, coupled with the understanding that social distancing will be in place for some time after lockdown ends, companies are now planning around how this impacts their recruitment for the rest of this year and beyond.
Research by the Institute of Student Employers conducted in March discovered over a quarter of employers were planning to reduce the number of graduates they take on this year. With the pandemic having only intensified since then, it seems reasonable to assume that even more have taken the decision to curtail recruitment of students and graduates, particularly given the possibility of a global recession.
But cancelling programmes will bring a cost in years to come, as a company’s pipeline of future talent will inevitably be diminished. Some employers, conscious that the contest to secure the brightest people starts early, are committing to transfer their programmes online, reflecting the virtual working that much of the workforce is now doing.
Of course, the pandemic has not hit all organisations equally. Although some, chiefly in sectors like tourism and hospitality, are struggling and will hold back on recruitment, companies in sectors including food retail, logistics and technology are seeing a spike in activity. Firms in these sectors will have the biggest motivations to keep their talent pipeline flowing.
Introducing new starters
We’ve been exploring how our digital platform can deliver an internship programme that both introduces new starters to an employer and hosts their training and work.
Most traditional internship programmes incorporate a blend of face-to-face meetings, e-learning, group sessions and experience of completing project work. Although face-to-face communication must be dropped, the other elements can be easily replicated virtually and in a way that doesn’t sacrifice on engagement levels.
For example, live online chat sessions can be offered to introduce the cohort to each other and management, helping to bring a sense of community to a group that might feel quite isolated individually without this. A series of these chat events could be organised to regularly check in on interns and provide them with a channel to share their own insights and air any concerns they have. These sessions could even be opened up to existing employees who previously joined through the internship, and allow interns to ask them questions on what to expect and get tips on how to manage their workload/ get the best out of the internship.
Similarly, one-to-one online chat events, perhaps between a new recruit and their mentor or manager, will help them feel valued and part of the team. For more basic queries, interns can also be provided with a chatbot that they can access whenever they want, and which can alert them to upcoming live chat events or when new resources become available.
Entirely virtual internships
The fact that today’s students are so au-fait with staying in touch online means that the leap to an entirely virtual internship is perhaps not so great for them as for their managers. The latter will be spending significant amounts of time right now converting content into something that can be delivered online.
But it is certainly an investment worth making. The efforts to keep the internships alive will also pay organisations dividends into the autumn and subsequent years. Whatever tech platforms can be devised to introduce interns to an employer will also work for graduates and work placement students beginning jobs in September.
The efforts to keep the internships alive will also pay organisations dividends into the autumn and subsequent years.
There is also potential for extending access to a virtual internship programme once interns are back at college during the following academic year. This could be a valuable way of staying in touch with them, via regular live chat sessions designed to educate and inform, in order to raise the chance that they will come back to work at the company after graduation.
Clearly, the switch to virtual will take time to evolve. But judging by what we are hearing from HR and recruitment professionals, this is a development that was being seriously considered before Covid-19 anyway. The pandemic has only expedited a trend that was already in progress – more virtual working as a way to mitigate climate change.
As we move towards a post-lockdown period, it is interesting that many are now talking about drawing together the priorities posed by pandemics and environmentalism. Virtual internships, as well as virtual on-boarding for graduates, is one way that recruiters can score on this new agenda.