One of the best ways for young people to gain exposure to the work world is through internships. For generations, internships have offered young adults their first glimpse of what it’s like to be in an office setting. They had a front-row seat to see if they liked the field that they were majoring in college. An internship could confirm their interest or make them realize that they’re heading into a profession that’s not right for them.
Colleges tend not to teach the etiquette of interviewing and interacting with managers and bosses. Despite paying tens of thousands of dollars a year in tuition and boarding costs, the schools pay little attention to preparing them for the workforce.
Every summer, I’d hire paid interns to help out in my offices. It was shocking to learn that kids from top schools didn’t know how to put together a résumé or LinkedIn profile. Most of the college-aged students were uncomfortable shaking hands, making direct eye contact (this was pre-pandemic), articulating what they’ve done in school and what they’d like to do after they’ve graduated. Without learning these important social and communication skills, it would put them at a great disadvantage, once they embark upon their first “real” job. Internships serve as a great gateway to pick up these soft skills.
The pandemic put a hold on internships and co-ops. Co-ops are usually short-term paid jobs that are arranged between a university and corporation. Schools, such as Drexel University in Philadelphia and Northeastern University in Boston, offer this type of program. A student majoring in engineering, film, finance, accounting and other areas could be placed with a company in their field of interest for about up to six months and earn a small salary. Oftentimes, a person may return to the same company for another round or two and receive a job offer when they graduate.
Indeed, the large job aggregation site, recently released a report that dives deeper into the state of the internship market. The company made the following observations:
- The share of internship postings per million job postings on Indeed’s U.S. website is down 39% from 2019.
- However, the share of remote internships has taken off —now seven times greater than March 2019.
- Job-seeker interest in internships has bounced back—up 38% from 2020.
It’s been a tough time for young people. Gen-Zers were born around the time of Sept. 11. They saw their parents laid off during the financial crisis in 2008. Some witnessed their family losing lots of money in the stock market crash. Others were forced to sell their homes and downsize.
This generation had to deal with the emergence of a toxic political climate. Tough issues, such as racism and wealth inequality, has dominated the narrative. Social media has given them easy access to friends, but has also made them feel inadequate—compared to the cultivated, manufactured lives displayed on Instagram.
If that wasn’t enough to deal with, the pandemic struck while they were in college or completing their senior year in high school. For over a year, they were subjected to being indoors and frightened about contracting or spreading Covid-19. Many universities and public schools stopped in-class studies and sent students home to take online classes that weren’t nearly as good as in-person instruction. They were left isolated and cheated out of what should have been some of the best times of their lives.
The job market for this cohort has looked bleak. According to Indeed, “Unemployment among workers ages 16-24 shot up to 27.4% in April 2020.” Even though the job market has improved, “unemployment among this age group is still 11.1%,” which is nearly double the national average of slightly over 6%.
During the early, dark days of the outbreak, internships disappeared, as companies sent employees home to work. As companies needed to manage their new remote setup, internships and co-ops weren’t deemed a priority. Companies were laying off millions of people and didn’t have the time or wherewithal to mentor young interns. Through April 13, internships were “down 39% and 15% from the same date in 2019 and 2020 respectively,” as per Indeed.
Fortunately, as millions of Americans received vaccinations, the government injected trillions of dollars into the economy and states reopened, the job market has started improving. While in-person internships remain soft, remote internships have significantly increased.
The job board reported, “Remote job postings have doubled during the pandemic, according to Hiring Lab research, and the trend is clearly visible in internship postings.” In March 2021, “20% of internship postings” were for remote work, “a nearly sevenfold gain from March 2019, when the share was 3%.”
Just as companies have opened the doors to remote work and seeking applicants from outside a commutable distance, the same is occurring with internships. College students have been able to apply for remote internships in cities, such as New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, Los Angeles and San Francisco. According to Indeed, “The growth of remote opportunities is a win for internship seekers. The trend means that young people can accept internships they might not otherwise be able to afford, especially if the opportunity previously required living in an expensive metro area.”
Internships have been controversial. Some companies expect a lot of time and effort from the young kids, but don’t pay them. They rationalize that the valuable lessons, mentoring and teaching about the field they’re interested in pursuing is a fair trade-off.
Critics of unpaid internships contend that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds can’t afford to work for free. They say this system benefits the children from families that have sufficient funds, so that their kids don’t have to worry about not earning anything.
Enlightened firms pay their interns. Some companies compensate them very well. A report conducted by Glassdoor, a company-ratings site and job board, found that “some interns will be earning over $8,000 per month” throughout the summertime. On a monthly basis, top tech companies, such as Facebook, offer interns $8,023, LinkedIn $8,009, Amazon $7,954 and Google $7,129.
The high remuneration shows that that the job market is heating up and it’s worthwhile for the tech firms to pay well to attract the best and brightest, and potentially hire them once they graduate.