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Interning in a Global Pandemic: Employment Barrier or Resilience Catalyst?

Interning with the CEOs and Founders of both a Global UN endorsed charity and a highly successful innovation company was not how I thought my summer would look, but neither did I expect a global pandemic to turn almost every element of modern society on its head.

When the opportunity to work on such a powerful new initiative as Global Parlez arose, I was entirely appreciative of the fact that such opportunities just do not come along every day… or ever.

I have known from the outset of my Economics degree that I ultimately want to work in the analytics of big data. Hence, my role as Analytics Apprentice could not have been better suited to my long-term career goals, whilst also inspiring new ones.

Of course, the quality and type of experience that I am gaining from this project is unparalleled with the majority of internships usually available to students, whilst the added gratification that comes with helping to activate the United Nations Sustainability Goals for communities and individuals across the globe is utterly invaluable.

I wake up at my home in Cumbria, and before lunch I have spoken to people from China, India and the Netherlands – the furthest I have walked is down the stairs. This unique and enriching venture has made me question almost every working norm, and reminded me of how different these might look in a post-COVID world.

This experience, however, is far from reflective of most people at the same stage of their education. As the number of young people choosing to enrol in university has continued to rise over the last decade, a saturated market has meant graduate employment is one of the most pressing concerns for students in today’s economy. Since starting university, there has always been somewhat of a sense of panic amongst many of my friends and peers on the matter.

This has been particularly prevalent with other female Economics students, as the sectors many of us seek to enter (Banking, Finance and the Government Economic Service, to name just a few) have historically been dominated by men from highly privileged backgrounds. Many feel that these are doors which are almost closed to them, now more than ever as we emerge from the depths of the pandemic.

I feel extremely fortunate that, through my internship, I have been exposed to a network of highly-skilled and successful businesswomen and role models. Attending my first Northern Power Women event back in December of 2018, I was shown a wealth of opportunity that was right on my doorstep in the North of England. This embedded a personal drive to succeed in my career goals, making them seem perfectly achievable with access to such a powerful initiative.

Now, why is this relevant? From my first university Open Day, we were presented with the statistic that 91% of students at MMU who partake in relevant work experience during their degree would go on to graduate with a First. The unquestionable synergy between good grades and quality work experience is now even more apparent to me.

As one of the Indian students that I was fortunate enough to interview in our research said, ‘universities package skills that have generally been picked up externally, into tangible tools ready for the workplace’. I have thought about this a lot. It confirmed for me the idea that attending university in itself is insufficient to being workplace ready, and many of the key characteristics desired by employers stem solely from individuals’ upbringing and professional experience, well before they have even considered higher education.

It goes without saying that there is a large volume of university students who lack a strong and coherent work ethic, contributing to the common perception that graduates who are ‘fresh from university’ are not always a preferable choice to employers.

A Bachelor’s degree alone is not enough anymore, and many current students will suffer greatly as a direct result of both a lack of access to such experience, and now, a much smaller labour market.

So, of course there will always be some element of worry for students like myself who are graduating over the coming years. With huge uncertainty from COVID and Brexit, for many the future may seem unpromising.

However, the empowerment I have gained from the tasks and projects that I have been fortunate enough to work on over the summer has placed me in a position where I feel like I have the necessary tools not just to survive, but to thrive as I leave full-time education.

The pandemic has undoubtedly cemented the concept of resilience for a lot of individuals and businesses, and has set a new benchmark which will be prevalent for years to come. The sheer dedication that has been exemplified by those around me has reiterated the fact that there is almost always a silver lining – even in global pandemics.

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