The other day I was catching up with a college friend who runs a successful startup on the East Coast. They recently returned to the office, and are navigating the hiccups of segmented pods and masked-up office life.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how work has changed because of the pandemic, and I had to get her two cents on how things felt different. So I asked her, “What’s the biggest difference in your office culture since returning after Covid?”
“Oh, definitely the lack of interns running around.”
I’ll admit, for all the thinking I’ve been doing about how Covid-19 has changed how we work, interns weren’t really front of mind for me. This really got me thinking, what is the landscape like for internships as we enter “the new normal”?
Over the past decade, it feels as if internships have become a right of passage for students and young professionals entering the world of work. But the rise of remote work and hybrid models might leave the internship-seeker wondering how relevant these positions will be in the future, and whether internships will continue to be stepping stones to future careers.
Here’s a look at the landscape for interns in 2021.
Pandemic effects on internships
In the early days of Covid-19, many businesses were left reeling, trying to get a grasp on the shift to remote work, the closure of offices and many negative economic effects stemming from shutdowns.
For many businesses, internships were the first thing on the chopping block when it came to restructuring and adapting. As of June 2020, internships in the U.S. had been cut by half, and in the UK 64% of internships had been cancelled.
Major companies such as Airbnb, Disney, and FedEx went as far as to cancel their entire summer internship programs for summer 2020.
While this may seem a minor casualty in the greater scope of the challenges of the pandemic, for many college students, it created serious problems. For some students on academic tracks that required internship hours, this setback meant delaying graduation. For many others, it was a major knock to their plans for their professional development and job prospects.
A survey from July of 2020 asked college students whether losing an internship opportunity had affected their graduation status or future career prospects. Of respondents, 71% said that opportunities related to their chosen academic track had diminished, and 4% even stated that they were forced to drop out or delay graduation.
The post-pandemic outlook for internships
2020 certainly presented a bleak outlook for students looking to embark on an internship, but as we are beginning to see reopening in earnest, and looking hopefully toward the end of Covid-19, how has the landscape for internship-seekers evolved?
To understand how internships fare in the job market, it’s important to look at the overall trajectory of U.S. economic recovery from Covid-19.
While many hope that the economic recovery into the summer would be more robust, recent jobs numbers seem to indicate recovery has been slowing. A report on job growth showed that U.S. employers added only 266,000 new jobs in the month of April, down significantly from the 916,000 jobs added in March.
Furthermore, the unemployment rate actually rose by 0.1%, climbing to 6.1% in March, just shy of February’s unemployment rate of 6.2%.
As for internships, a recent study by Indeed found that as of April 2020, the share of internships in the overall job pool was still down significantly from previous years. Percentages of internships in the job market are down by 39% compared to 2019 numbers.
One silver lining in this study is the fact that although the overall number of internships may be down, the percentage of remote internships has risen significantly since the beginning of the pandemic.
In March 2019, only 3% of internship posts mentioned some kind of at-home or remote work. This number rose significantly throughout the pandemic lockdowns, hitting 25% in August of 2020. Perhaps due to office reopenings, remote internship opportunities have declined slightly, however as of March 2021, 20% of listings still indicated the possibility of remote work.
Top industries for remote internships
So, if you’re seeking an internship in summer 2021, the landscape of the job market may not be as hospitable as it was pre-pandemic. However, the rise of remote internship possibilities provide some hope for those looking to advance their skills and professional profiles, offering flexibility and opportunities not limited by geographic location.
If you are hoping to land a remote internship, you would do well to steer your search toward one of these industries which boast high percentages of remote internship possibilities:
- Marketing: 47.7% of marketing sector internships indicate remote possibilities.
- Media and Communications: 43.3% of postings mention remote work.
- Arts and Entertainment: 36.5% of arts and entertainment internships are potentially remote.
- IT Operations and Helpdesk: 28.2% of internships are remote-possible.
- Legal: 25.9% of internship postings mention remote work.
Outlook for internships into the future
It’s important to remember that, although this past year has felt endless, we are really only just beginning to see the long term effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the world of work. With this in mind, it can be hard to make a confident prediction about if and when internship possibilities will fully bounce back.
Data on recovery and jobs growth would seem to indicate that internships have yet to return with the full force and significance that they once held in office culture and professional development. As to whether internship opportunities will simply take longer to recover than overall jobs, only time will tell.
I am confident in saying, however, that remote internships are here to stay. I can only hope that this will allow young professionals getting started on their career journeys access more opportunities.
One problematic aspect of unpaid internships has been that they have traditionally privileged individuals who can afford to support themselves while taking an unpaid opportunity. Perhaps the rise of remote internships will serve to level the playing field by providing students and workers who are early in their career with flexible opportunities that will allow them to stay financially solvent while embarking on an important learning experience in their careers.