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Remote Internships Jump During Pandemic

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But internship postings are down overall.

Key points:

  • The share of internship postings per million job postings on Indeed’s US website is down 39% from 2019. 
  • Yet the share of remote internships has taken off, increasing nearly sevenfold since March 2019. 
  • Job seeker interest in internships has bounced back, but is still off 8.3% from 2019.

In March 2020, young people on the cusp of entering the US labor market watched it implode. Unemployment among workers ages 16-24 shot up to 27.4% in April 2020. While the market has vastly improved, unemployment among this age group is still 11.1%

One area of the job market that’s still ailing is internships. The pandemic threw a wrench into these positions, which often serve as career launching pads for young people. Internships are a way to explore potential fields, get a first professional experience, and build a network. They can also be instrumental in finding full-time work. While most internships are geared toward summer employment, opportunities can be found year round.  

As COVID-19 decimated entire sectors last spring, internship opportunities plunged with the rest of the economy. There’s since been a recovery of sorts, but it’s limited. Remote internship opportunities have jumped, while overall internship postings have hardly bounced back at all.

Internship postings are struggling 

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.

While labor market gains are accelerating, internship postings haven’t come along for the ride yet. Early in 2020, the share of internship postings was on par with the previous year. But, starting in March 2020, the share took a nosedive. Through April 13, the internship share per million job postings was down 39% and 15% from the same date in 2019 and 2020 respectively. 

Internships may be slower to bounce back either because companies are still recovering from the economic damage of the past 13 months or remain cautious about the public health situation. From an employer’s perspective, internships provide temporary help and a potential pipeline for future hires, but are rarely critical to day-to-day operations. 

Remote internships surge

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 wor surged to 25%. Caption added post-publication.

Remote job postings have doubled during the pandemic, according to Hiring Lab research, and the trend is clearly visible in internship postings. Throughout 2019, an average of 5% of internship postings contained remote work terms like “work from home” and “telecommute.” By August 2020, the share of internship postings mentioning remote work had surged to 25%. The share has since dipped, but, in March 2021, 20% of internship postings still mentioned remote work, a nearly sevenfold gain from March 2019, when the share was 3%. 

The jump in remote internships allows a wider swath of students and recent grads to apply. The New York, NY, Chicago, IL, and Washington, DC, metros led in numbers of internships in the second half of 2020, with Los Angeles and San Francisco close behind. Of these cities, four have living costs at least 10% above the national average. Even when internships are paid, an in-person opportunity in an expensive city can be cost-prohibitive. Remote internship opportunities help level the playing field. 

Availability of remote internships varies across sectors 

Virtually the entire labor market has seen an increase in the share of internship postings containing remote terms, but the availability of such positions differs by sector. For example, from the second half of 2019 to the same period in 2020, remote marketing internship postings jumped from 14% to 47%, a more-than-threefold increase. At the same time, the share of remote human resources internships climbed from just 2.2% to 18.7%, an eightfold rise. 

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.

In other sectors though, remote internships generally are impractical. For example, nursing and pharmacy internship postings are rarely remote. In 2019, the share of remote internship postings was near zero in both sectors. Their remote internship shares gained in the second half of 2020, but the numbers were still miniscule: 0.8% in nursing and 1.9% in pharmacy. 

Interest in internships still down

Line graph titled “Interest in internships slightly behind 2019.” With a vertical axis ranging from 0 to 10,000, Indeed tracked the internship searches per million searches along a horizontal axis ranging from January 1 to April 13, with lines representing 2019, 2020, and 2021. As of April 13, 2021, the share of internship-related searches was 8.3% lower than in the comparable period in 2019, but up 38% from 2020. Caption added post-publication.

Interest in internships typically peaks in early April and then slowly dwindles. Though not back to pre-pandemic levels, interest is way up from last April, when college students were sent home and businesses shuttered. Through April 13, the share of internship-related searches was 8.3% lower than in the comparable period in 2019, but up 38% from 2020. 

This year, people seeking internships probably have better expectations about their prospects. Vaccine distribution is ramping up and the pandemic appears to be receding. The class of 2020 faced one of the worst labor markets in US history. Now, young job seekers may be trying to get a foot in the door.  When entry-level jobs in a field are sparse, internships offer one way for young workers to break in.

Conclusion

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. Interest in internships is rising again, welcome news for employers looking for temporary help or trying to build robust recruitment pipelines. In large measure, the persistence of the remote internship trend will reflect what happens with COVID-19. But it will be interesting to see whether remote internship carves out a bigger place even when the pandemic is over.

Methodology

We define internship job postings as those in which “intern” or “internship” appear in the title. We identify job postings as open to remote work if the job title or description includes terms like “remote work,” “telecommute,” “work from home,” or similar terms, or if the location is explicitly listed as remote. These postings include both permanently and temporarily remote jobs, though employers often don’t specify. For the share of remote internships by sector, a sector must have had a minimum of 1,000 total postings from July to December in both 2019 and 2020 to be included. Interest in internships is defined as any search containing “intern” or “internship.”