Internships have long been a way for young people and new graduates to figure out their career interests, develop professional networks and potentially receive full-time job offers. In fact, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 70% of employers make full-time job offers to interns, and 80% of students accept these offers.

However, just as the COVID-19 pandemic has affected many sectors, leading to job losses, so too have the events of this past year impacted students. The class of 2020 found itself entering one of the most challenging job markets in decades

But what about the impact of COVID-19 on internships? To learn more, we spoke with Indeed economist AnnElizabeth Konkel about her research on the new trend of remote internships during the pandemic. 

What are the key findings? 

When we look at internship job postings on Indeed’s U.S. website through April 13, 2021, we see that the share of internship postings per million job postings is down 39% and 15% from the same dates in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Line graph: Internship postings down during pandemic

Source: Indeed
Line graph titled “Internship postings down during pandemic.” With a vertical axis ranging from 0 to 10,000, Indeed tracked the internship job postings per million jobs on Indeed along a horizontal axis ranging from January 1 to April 13 with lines representing 2019, 2020, and 2021. The share of internship postings per million job postings on Indeed’s US website was down 39% from 2019. Caption added post-publication.

However, while internships are down overall, remote internships have increased during the pandemic. Throughout 2019, only around 5% of internship postings contained remote work terms such as “work from home” and “telecommute.” Fast forward to August 2020, and the share of internship postings that mention remote work had surged to 25%. That number has decreased slightly since then, but 20% of internship postings still mentioned remote work in March of this year, compared to only 3% in March 2019 — almost a sevenfold increase.

This is noteworthy because, as AnnElizabeth points out, “the increase in remote internships is entirely tied to COVID. That’s not something you normally see in a recession.”

Line graph: Out-of-office internships multiply their share
Line graph titled “Out-of-office internships multiply their share.” With a vertical axis ranging from 5% to 25%, Indeed tracked the share of internships containing remote terms along a horizontal axis ranging from January 2019 to March 2021. By August 2020, the share of internship postings mentioning remote work surged to 25%. Caption added post-publication.

We also see increased interest in internships this year compared to this time last year. Typically, interest in internships peaks in April, but there was much more to be concerned about last April as many schools shut down and college students returned home. According to AnnElizabeth, “The timing of the pandemic had a huge impact on decreased interest in internships last year.” 

Through April 13 of this year, the share of internship-related searches was still 8.3% lower than it was for the same period in 2019, when the pandemic hadn’t yet hit. However, compared to this time last year, internship interest is up a whopping 38% — suggesting that we’re gradually returning to normalcy. 

What does this mean for employers?

With all the turbulence in the labor market last year, some employers are still opting out of hiring interns this year. In AnnElizabeth’s words, “The pandemic has turned budgets upside down. It’s been one of the most challenging times in recent memory, not just for one sector, but the whole economy.”

Despite a gradually stabilizing situation, many businesses may still be recovering from economic damage or are cautious about the public health impact of opening internships, instead choosing to wait until things are fully back to normal. 

However, it’s still important for employers to consider the long-term impact of having interns. Interns are brought on to a team not only to contribute an extra set of hands; they also offer fresh perspectives and potentially become future employees at a company. And while interns are not critical to operations at an organization, they play a crucial role in forming your talent pipeline. Organizations are able to save more money by hiring from the intern pool, and these interns come onto the job already knowledgeable about the company, team and processes. Therefore, employers should take a long-term view and do what is best for the business when considering whether or not to hire interns. 

For employers worried about health and safety, consider whether offering remote internships could be a solution. If you do decide to offer them, it’s important to think about what you want to get out of hiring an intern and what the candidate should get out of the internship. Approach remote internship hiring with a strategy and keep the candidate experience in mind. 

For example, creating a strong virtual onboarding process, setting clear expectations for interns and organizing designated check-ins with the intern creates structure and success.  

What does this mean for job seekers?

The rise in remote internships could mean more opportunities to job seekers of all backgrounds. According to our research, the New York, Chicago and Washington D.C. metros led in the number of internships in the second half of 2020, followed by Los Angeles and San Francisco. 

Of these five cities, four have living costs at least 10% above the national average. Remote internships have the potential to level the playing field for applicants and offer chances to people who may typically find these opportunities cost-prohibitive. 

“Moving to a city for a couple of months, that can be a really expensive undertaking,” says AnnElizabeth. Now that remote internships are rising, students who can’t afford those in-person opportunities can still have the same experience and benefits of an internship but in a virtual environment.

Line graph: Remote internships rising across sectors
Table titled “Remote internships rising across sectors.” Indeed compared the percentage of internship postings mentioning remote or at-home work across various industries and between 2019, 2020 and the ratio 2020 versus 2019. From the second half of 2019 to the same period in 2020, remote marketing internship postings jumped from 14% to 47%. Caption added post-publication.

However, for certain sectors or jobs, candidates may not benefit from remote internships. For example, remote internships with the highest growth from the second half of 2019 to the second half of 2020 included roles in marketing, human resources, software development and media and communications. 

Meanwhile, internships in nursing and pharmacy are rarely remote. In 2019, the share of remote internship postings was near zero in both sectors. And while their remote internship shares grew in the second half of 2020, the numbers were still tiny: 0.8% in nursing and 1.9% in pharmacy.

As the world slowly opens back up again, it will be interesting to see whether or not remote internships are here to stay. For employers who are able to offer them, remote internships could offer opportunities to candidates who couldn’t participate in the past, while also providing employers with an expanded pool of top talent to choose from.