Postponed, remote and far fewer than before. That’s how it has been in the the world of internships in times of Covid: necessity forced some companies to let their interns go, while others were able to work remotely. “Since June, we have been seeing some signs of recovery: by the end of the year, the figures on the internship market should be quite good despite the pandemic,” explains Eleonora Voltolina, founder and editor of the online publication ‘La Repubblica degli Stagisti’ (the Interns’ Republic).
It is, however, an undisputable fact that something has changed: “In the first six months of 2020, there were 50% fewer internships compared to the previous year: from 185,182 internships in 2019, this year we are down to just 96,376.” The reasons are clear: many companies and both public and private organisations were obliged to postpone internships during the lockdown, and then put them on hold to avoid having to make redundancies due to the subsequent economic recession.
This has impacted all age groups, from the under 25s to the over 55s. The numbers paint the picture. “This year, out of the roughly 96,000 internships provided in the first half of the year, a little over 38,000 or around 39% were taken up by the under 25s, while the 25-34 age group benefited from 40% or just under 39,000. Over 15,000 went to the 35-54 age group with the over 55s representing 4% of the total. The percentages are almost the same as last year except in the under 25s age group where the figure was a little higher.”
The government could support internships by contributing a part or the whole salary for interns or rewarding those companies that hire their former interns
The real differences emerge when it comes to gender. “The internship market usually offers the same number of opportunities to men as to women, but this time there seems to be a difference,” Voltolina explains. In the second quarter of 2020, 46.4% of the 27,000 internships available went to women and 53.6% to men. This is an unprecedented four percentage point difference when you consider that, in 2019, the numbers were perfectly balanced, and the numbers tell the same story in all age groups, from the under 25s to the over 55s. “It’s a small gap and it could soon be bridged, but it could also have a lasting impact on the futures of so many young people at a time of such uncertainty.”
This all means that the internship market needs some support. “It is important that internships receive the same kind of support as employment, but some caution is needed: a steep increase could mean that companies are using interns to replace employees,” Voltolina explains. The ‘Relaunch Decree’ did not include the expected incentives for internships. “The government could support internships by contributing a part or the whole salary for interns or rewarding those companies that hire their former interns,” Voltolina says. However, there are other routes. “Our public administration could run large-scale internship schemes and, even though they would not lead to employment, they could provide valuable training and pay a good salary. This would allow many young people to find a job. Another alternative could be to ask those companies that enjoyed an advantage during the pandemic to take on more interns.”