A Sandwich Dilemma

A Sandwich Dilemma

Sandwich years or placements have for many years been a very popular route for students to gain practical experience as well as academic study. Likewise for the employers, they are a great way to secure future candidates early and/or to inject some youthful knowledge into the company.

COVID-19 has presented an unprecedented challenge for hiring teams across the globe. Organisations, big or small, have had to adapt their processes of hiring to allow for recent guidance and restrictions sometimes resulting in the cancellation of agreed placements or a significant reduction in the number of placements on offer.

Back in May 2020, the Institute of Student Employers said that its members (who are typically the largest graduate employers) were expecting to offer up to 40% fewer placements and internships due to the pandemic and the situation doesn’t look to have improved any this year.

Understandably, some employers haven’t made a final decision about internships yet, instead waiting to see what their economic prospects and the pandemic will be like before deciding whether to go ahead. So all is not lost for the many students desperately searching for a position.

In the spring and summer of 2020, some employers were able to offer virtual internships: Sky, Clifford Chance, EY and IBM were just four of them. And since then, many more employers have investigated the technology platforms that will enable them to offer online opportunities. If in-person opportunities can’t go ahead, we hope, therefore, that there will be fewer cancellations and more virtual opportunities available. At least in those sectors that are able to offer homeworking.

If such placements are available they are hugely oversubscribed so competition is fierce. For employers the process of recruiting is slow and disheartening as many HR functions are still operating from home which can have the effect of slowing things down.

These delays are adding pressure to those students who have already had to lose precious University time due to the closure of their Universities. So for everyone involved the situation is not good.

So what can employers do?

  • If offering internships is just not feasible at this time, consider re-evaluating the situation in a few months to see if perhaps a shortened placement would still be possible.
  • Investigate the feasibility of offering ‘virtual’ placements. With the use of video conferencing and other means to stay in touch having been deployed during the pandemic some of the work to achieve this will have already been done. Students will still have a great deal to offer even if they cannot be onsite.
  • Consider offering ‘micro’ placements – much shorter placements that can still offer vital experience to the students and help the company – perhaps for a one-off project.
  • When considering hiring graduates in the future, take into consideration the difficulties the applicant may have experienced in trying to secure a placement for their sandwich Degree. Consider if they have achieved any of the following to demonstrate their commitment to their careers:
    • Volunteer (digitally if not in person)
    • Used online courses to develop skills and knowledge
    • Stayed up to date with the news and how your business/sector has been impacted by the situation.
    • Watched and taken part in relevant webinars
    • Built their network
    • Pursued an Independent Project – such as a piece of research or set up their own business.

Covid 19 has damaged society in so many ways. One thing we cannot do is let it continue to do so into the future. One way of avoiding this is for businesses to do whatever they can to continue offering our young people the opportunity to learn on the job and gain vital experience for their future careers.

Oh, and if you are wondering who the chap in the picture is – He is the Earl of Sandwich who in England in 1762, during a particularly long gambling binge asked the house cook to bring him something he could eat without getting up from his seat and the sandwich was born.

If you would like to discuss how you could offer a placement to a willing student or need help with any other HR issue please get in touch via the details below.