Five internship & placement trends of 2021

Dec 1, 2021 | Work experience/internships | 1 comment

ISE’s annual student recruitment report launched last month. Researcher Holly Hussein outlines the main changes in the intern and placement students’ market.

After the significant drop in intern and placement student recruitment through the pandemic it appears the market is bouncing back, according to the ISE Student Recruitment Survey 2021.

And these opportunities are still providing an important pathway into the graduate labour market with 60% of former interns and placement students being recruited into graduate jobs this year.


1. Growing market

Following two years of reductions in internship and work placement recruitment, we seem to be heading in the right direction again with growth for both types of hires this year.

Internship recruitment is currently still slightly depressed, but expected to be back above ‘normal’ levels by the end of the 2021/2022 recruitment cycle, while placement student hiring is lagging further behind but on an upward trajectory.

A 23% increase in internship hiring was observed in the last year, which is expected to rise by another 19% by the end of the 2021/22 recruitment cycle, based on employer forecasts.

Most growth was seen in the Retail, FMCG & Tourism (97%), Charity & Public Sector (75%) and Digital & IT (74%) sectors, while a reduction in internships vacancies was seen in the Energy, Engineering & Industry sector (-22%).

Lesser growth has been seen for placements – only a 7% increase in hiring was observed in the last year, with another 11% forecast by next year.

While the Retail, FMCG & Tourism sector saw a substantial 50% increase in recruitment numbers, most other sectors were more stable with much smaller positive or negative changes.

Average (mean) change in intern and placement student hiring numbers by sector 2019/20 to 2020/21

2. Competition stable

Competition for internships has remained broadly stable, with 83 students applying for each internship vacancy on average, only 2% more than last year.

However, competition for placements seems to have decreased, with 82 students applying for each role on average, a 17% decrease from last year, potentially due to less students choosing to complete a year in industry.


3. The shift to virtual

In the last year, the vast majority of all internships and placements were delivered virtually (72% and 62% respectively), with most of the rest using a hybrid approach, and very few mainly face-to-face.

In the next year, this is expected to switch so that the majority are using a hybrid approach, around a quarter returning to mainly face-to-face work and less than 10% remaining mainly virtual.

While there is some movement back to face-to-face approaches, it is likely that employers are still wary to do so while the environment remains uncertain.


4. Levelling the playing field with internships

Internships and placement programmes dedicated to specific diversity groups were offered by 40% of employers who take on interns or placement students. They give an opportunity for students to develop workplace skills and demonstrate their capabilities to employers, helping to level the playing field.

The groups most often targeted were ethnic minority students (offered by 75% of those that have programmes for specific diversity groups) and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds (68%).


5. Salaries increased

The typical intern and placement student salary has increased this year from £19,000 to £20,000. Sectoral differences can be seen with salaries ranging from a median of £18,000 in the Charity & Public sector to £23,250 in the Financial & Professional Services.

Median intern and placement student starting salary by sector in 2020/2021


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  1. Sue Mason

    Leveling the playing field with internships is also about ensuring that students are paid enough so that they are accessible to all, rather than just those from wealthy families.

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