How employers adapted their student recruitment due to Covid-19

Nov 24, 2020 | Sector & policy

Employers have shown agility and resilience in their handling of student recruitment this year. Saffery Champness, Fidelity International, Severn Trent and Capgemini tell their stories.

ISE Student Recruitment Survey 2020 reported that this year saw the largest fall in graduate recruitment since 2008/9 and many employers were forced to significantly reduce internships and placement opportunities as they worked to deal with the pandemic.

However, it was a different story for school and college leaver recruitment, which remained relatively stable with a 6% increase.

We talked to some of our employer members to better understand the stories behind the numbers and the reality of what they have been dealing with.


Saffery Champness LLP

This year Saffery Champness LLP honoured all of the 40 graduate offers they had made up until March, but had to reduce the overall number that they intended to hire this year by 10-15%. All of their internships were put on hold and reoffered to successful candidates for 2021.

Recruitment Manager, Ian Williams, explained: “It is important that we protect our current staff as well as new people moving in, so our approach to recruitment has been cautiously optimistic this year. We didn’t want to over hire or be in a position where we had to withdraw offers.

“While, like many other professional firms, we took the decision to reduce the number of graduate jobs this year this was only by a small amount, and we made sure that we could fulfil our obligations on offers that we had already made and maintained school leaver recruitment.”

Saffery Champness LLP is increasingly recruiting more school leavers. The balance is currently split at around 80% graduates and 20% school leavers.

“Our appetite to recruit school leavers over a longer period is increasing. Partly due to commercial reasons, but also to help build a more diverse and inclusive team. Not everyone can afford to go to university, lots of people are opting for alternative routes and the calibre of those people is increasing,” said Ian.


Fidelity International

This year Fidelity International’s recruitment has been stable overall with 2% fall in graduate recruitment, 2% increase in school leaver hiring and 3% more internships than the previous year.

“We have been really lucky that all of our entry-level recruitment has been relatively stable this year,” said Gemma Elsen, Global Head of Early Careers.

“School leaver hiring has gone up slightly while we have slightly reduced our graduate numbers. This reflects our appetite to bring more school leavers into the business, particularly in operations and technology as well as the investment management space, which has been dominated by graduates.

“We have also been more successful in converting our placement students into graduate hires this year. Next year we hope to take on more interns than graduates, so they can be an even more effective talent pipeline.

“There is recognition at a senior level that we need junior talent. Regardless of what’s happening economically, we covet young people as they will be our future leaders. They also offer us a fresh perspective. We’re investing in diversity and we know we can turn the dial from a bottom-up approach, particularly with our interns and apprentices.”



Capgemini offers a range of entry-level opportunities mainly across apprenticeships and graduate programmes, along with some internships and placement roles.

Attraction and Recruitment Manager for Early Careers, Dan Doherty explained how they responded to the pandemic:

“We transitioned to virtual assessment centres within five working days and have run 50+ sessions since March, with no adverse impact on hiring rates. Given our client base sits across many industry sectors, the impact of the pandemic was not equal across the business and the redeployment and recruitment teams were both busy managing the impact of Covid-19.

“Our early careers intakes this year were slightly lower than the YOY average but already we have seen the demand for graduates and apprentices across the business increase, similar to numbers for the previous year. We expect to see a record year of hiring as we recruit more entry-level talent into diverse apprenticeships, see an increase in the demand for internships and hire graduates into DevOps, Cyber and Data related roles for 2021.”


Severn Trent

This year Severn Trent’s entry-level programmes were made up of 60% apprenticeships, 20% graduate schemes and 20% placement programmes. Despite Covid-19, these programmes have continued.

Apprenticeships increased by 30% and graduate numbers dropped by the same proportion as programmes were realigned to the company’s skills needs for the future. New Talent Programme Manager, Jade Pearson explained:

“We’re very fortunate that it’s been business as usual for us since the pandemic. We’ve just entered a new Asset Management Plan cycle, which enables us to identify the core skills and capabilities we’re going to need to be successful over the next five years. We’ve invested in our graduate engineering programme over the last few years whilst also introducing new apprenticeships in a range of occupations.

“Our recruitment strategy this year reflected all of this with a slight reduction in graduate numbers and an increase in apprenticeships. Despite lockdown we’re really proud to continue with our placements as the work is mainly office based and we were able to get onsite when necessary, in a covid-secure way.

“We’re always looking for new ways we can create opportunities for future generations irrespective of background through initiatives such as the Kickstart Scheme and our new talent programmes. We’re seeing a real kick-up in interest in apprenticeships across the business.”

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